Lets be honest, how many of us do an effective cool-down (or “warm-down”) after a game of 5-a-side? Very few, by the looks of it.
Maybe that’s because if you’re playing at a busy 5-a-side centre then the moment your time on the court is up, you’re unceremoniously hurried off the pitch to make way for the next game to start in 30 seconds.
There’s hardly time for everyone to round up their possessions and shake hands (presuming you’re still on friendly terms at that stage) before getting kicked-off, so any thoughts of doing a cool-down tend to get less attention.
In fact, the likelihood is that once you’ve finished your game most of you are more focussed on limping to your car, standing around discussing what went wrong, or heading straight for the bar.
But here’s the reality: if you’re not bothering with a cool-down routine, you’re completely missing out on a golden opportunity to keep your body in tip-top condition. In this article, with the collaboration of expert personal trainer, Craig Ball we’re going to look at why, and how, you should cool-down after football.
The importance of a cool-down
The importance of a cool-down after a game cannot be emphasised enough. The general goal of doing so is to help ease the body back into its pre-exercise state.
You might wonder how this helps your body. With the high intensity nature of 5-a-side, your heart rate will likely be very high; this needs to be brought down gradually, rather than going from all out maximum effort to a complete stand-still. Lowering your heart rate too quickly can lead to sudden dizziness since your body is not used the diminished level of work compared to a game.
Having a gradual cool-down encourages the blood to keep circulating around your body. This is vital as blood is used to carry nutrients and oxygen to the parts of your body that need them. After a tough game, your body and muscles will have been subject to stresses and strains, leaving it sore and in need of help being repaired.
A cool-down can also help your flexibility. After the game, your muscles are very warm, which is an ideal state to be stretched. Stretching on a consistent basis allows your muscles to be lengthened, leading to a greater range of motion – something you’ll be wishing you had improved the next time you strain yourself stretching wide to make a tackle.
A simple cool-down routine
5-10 minutes of easy exercise after a game will help with the gradual lowering of the heart rate. Since you’ve often been banished from the pitch and space may therefore be an issue, jogging on the spot is fine. Start at a higher pace and gradually slow it down over the duration. Some deep breathing to help oxygenate your system is also encouraged.
Following this, your body is ready for some static stretching. A static stretch is where you hold a stretch in one position without any movement. It’s the opposite of a dynamic stretch, where you do move as you stretch – which is a method that is more appropriately used in a pre-match warm-up.
The more areas of your body you can stretch the better, but you should heavily focus on the legs and lower back as it’s these that are most important for football.
As a minimum, try doing the following 5 simple stretches after you play. It’s best if you can maintain each stretch for 20-30 seconds per muscles group. Also see our additional stretching tips further down below to make sure you’re doing them right.
What a cool-down will not do
A lot of people think that the main purpose of performing a cool-down is to stop you aching after a game. The theory goes that these routines will remove a build-up of lactic acid from the muscles which will lead to reduced aching.
Sadly, that particular theory isn’t well supported by evidence. Back in 2007 a review was done of seven studies that investigated the effects of stretching after exercise (Herber & Noronha, 2007). They found that these studies consistently showed there was minimal or no effect on the muscle soreness experienced between half a day and three days after the physical activity.
So a cool-down won’t necessarily stop you aching, and studies have also shown that it may not even help significantly when it comes to avoiding injury (although more work needs to be done on that). But of course, there are other valid reasons for doing a cool-down, namely being able to safely ease your body down from intense levels, and also to allow stretching to take place.
If it’s tips to stop your muscles aching that you’re looking for, see our tips to stop aching after a game.
Why should you stretch after exercise?
Stretching helps develop flexibility and keeps muscles at their optimal length, meaning they’re less likely to be imbalanced and cause you problems. A tight hamstring, for example can be a contributing factor in some instances of back pain.
Chances are you don’t get many opportunities to stretch. If you have a desk-job, or spend lots of time in fairly static positions your body could do with a good stretch every once in a while. It will help loosen all the imbalances and muscle tightening that might be occurring from spending 8 hours a day hunched over a computer.
Stretching is best done when your muscles are warm and supple and, if 5-a-side is one of your only forms of exercise (which it is for many people) then the period straight after the game represents a great opportunity to get this valuable stretching done.
Static stretching tips
To make sure that your stretches as effective as possible, consider the following tips:
- Stretch when you are warm. Do it directly after the game, not 15 minutes later after you’ve driven home.
- Stretch only to the point of slight discomfort. If you go past this point you’re at risk of causing yourself an injury. If you do feel pain, stop immediately.
- Don’t round your back as you stretch – the stress this can place on your lower back can cause problems.
- Breathe as you stretch, don’t hold your breath.
A cool-down routine is your way of getting your body to gently ease from the intensity of the game, back to normality. Not doing one can lead to dizziness, but also misses out on the opportunity to stretch your muscles which makes sure that they remain at their optimal length and stops imbalances developing.
A simple cool-down routine won’t win you any prizes for looking good, nor will it help you be first to the bar afterwards, but it makes a lot of sense. Do some gentle exercise, slowly lowering your heart rate for 5-10 minutes, followed by the 5 simple static stretches suggested above. Do it straight away, don’t head home and then do it as your heart rate will already have dropped and your muscles will have cooled down.