Reduce your risk of workout injuries with a proper cool-down

Mar 1, 2008 at 2:35 p.m. ET

Before you jump into a workout, a warm-up of movements and easy stretches can prepare you for exercise and reduce your risk of injury. Did you know that a cool-down routine can be just as important?

You just busted your butt for an hour at level 10 on the elliptical machine. Totally pooped, you can only think about plopping on the couch for an uninterrupted marathon of mindless TV. But before you spring for the sofa, take some post-workout time to work in a recovery routine.

"The key isn't just how hard you work out -- it's how you recover," says Katie McDonald Neitz, senior editor at Runner's World, and author of the new book, Runner's World Guide to Road Racing. She adds, "Muscles regenerate and get stronger during the rest period after hard bouts of exercise." Plus, an active cooldown is the most effective way to rid your body of lactic acid, which builds up during exercise and contributes to muscle soreness and fatigue.

To make sure you stay injury-free -- and are able to walk comfortably the next day – try McDonald Neitz's suggested recovery routine.

Road RacingHydrate: Drink 8 to 16 ounces of sports drinks, which replenishes electrolyes and minerals lost through sweat.

Change: Your body needs to cool down – put on dry clothes (even just a fresh top) immediately to help your body regulate its temperature.

Reload: Consume a mix of carbs and protein (McDonald Neitz favors chocolate milk) within 15 minutes after your workout to jump-start muscle recovery.

Shower: Warm water relaxes the nervous system and helps your body readjust its temperature.

Stretch: Doing flexibility training within an hour of ending a workout boosts circulation, which aids recovery.

Refuel again: Once your stomach has settled, eat a meal with a balance of carbs and protein to replace your glycogen (energy) stores and rebuild damaged muscle.

Get Horizontal: Naps are ideal, but you will benefit from even a 15- to 30-minute break with your feet up (the elevation promotes circulation and slows heart rate).

Cool down: Before you go to bed, fill a baggie with ice and apply to your tired muscles for about 20 minutes. Or, if you are so bold, soak in a cool or cold bath for 10 minutes. This will aid muscle recovery and prevent soreness the next day.

Self-massage: A deep-tissue sports massage can be too intense after a hard or long workout. Opt for kneading your own muscles with a pressure suited to your comfort level.

For more on post-workout recovery, check out:

MayoClinic Sports Medicine