The Cool-down: The First Step to Proper Recovery

The Cool-down:

The First Step to Proper Recovery

‘Recovery…that’s the name of the game…
Whoever recovers the fastest does the best’ – Lance Armstrong

Cool-down and recovery from activity are areas that are generally poorly completed in team environments; however, they have a significant effect on performance. A good number of hockey coaches are starting to recognize the importance of performing a dynamic warm-up before hitting the ice, but very few
involve their athletes in a thorough cool-down afterwards. For the majority of young hockey players, the post-practice or post-game cool-down involves a few quick stretches, taking off your equipment, and jumping into the car for the ride home. The first twenty minutes after you get off the ice present the perfect
opportunity to start the recovery process and completing a thorough cool-down routine after each on-ice session guarantees that you will fresher for your next training session.

The primary purpose of the cool-down period is to help the body to return to preexercise levels. Elite athletes recognize the importance of adequate recovery in achieving peak performance and therefore they perform cool-down routines after each and every training session. This cool-down period after exercise is as critical as the warm-up period prior to the workout. Your body needs to ‘come down’ from a training session or game in the same way that your body needs to ‘ramp up’ to prepare for activity. This cool-down period becomes increasingly important when athletes must practice or play multiple times a day, such as
during training camp or during tournaments, as it will help players to feel ‘more fresh’ for the next session.

The benefits of performing a thorough cool-down include:

  • Reducing fatigue
  • Reducing injuries
  • Promoting muscular relaxation
  • Increasing flexibility

Your cool-down routine should include the following:

  • 10 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity
  • 10 minutes of thorough stretching of key muscle groups

Aerobic Component:
When you neglect to perform a thorough cool-down after a tough training session, practice or game, your muscles will feel heavy and tired. By performing 10 minutes of easy jogging immediately after getting off the ice (at between 30-50% of maximum intensity), you will prevent blood from pooling in your legs, which allows for quicker removal of lactate from your muscles. Lactate is an important source of fuel for the body, but its accumulation produces fatigue. Blood lactate decreases much more quickly when you do a cool-down run because blood flow is maintained at a higher level, which increases both movement of lactate out of your muscles and the rate at which your muscles utilize lactate. This will reduce muscles stiffness, and when combined with proper stretching, will decreasing the likelihood of future injuries.

Stretching Component:
If you fail to stretch out the muscles that are predominantly used while playing, they will remain in a shortened state and you will increase your likelihood of injury. For the vast majority of hockey players, the muscles that are most critical to stretch after an on-ice session are the hip flexors, glutes, groin,
quadriceps and lower back. If these muscles remain chronically tight over the course of the season, you are predisposing yourself to the injuries that plague many young hockey players and will substantially hinder your on-ice performance, such as pulled hip flexors and groins, as well as chronic lower back
pain.

Fitting It In:
Coaches, parents and players must all take responsibility for making sure that the athletes perform their cool-down after each and every on-ice session.

Coaches: may have to monitor the players to make sure the cool-down is being performed properly.

Parents: must understand that they will have to wait an extra 20 minutes after the ice session before they can leave.

Athletes: must put in the effort no matter how the ice session went and what they have happening afterwards.

Taking the time to perform a thorough cool-down after every training session will help to ensure that injuries are kept to a minimum throughout the season and will help to keep the athletes more flexible and ‘fresh’ in between on-ice sessions.

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