When you are finishing up a hockey workout or intense practice, it’s important to engage in some form of cool down activity.
The cool down is primarily in place to act as a bridge between your active self and your non-active self, both mentally and physiologically.
This bridge between intense exercise and rest is important for hockey players to build as an immediate halt in intense activity to doing absolutely nothing can potentially lead to blood pooling, dizziness, fainting, and continued elevation of stress hormones that you no longer need.
The Physiology of a Cool Down
You have to understand that our bodies undergo a wide series of internal changes in order to support the demands of a hockey game, practice, or workout.
First, due to your activity level, your heart rate and breathing rate will be extremely elevated in comparison to what it is during a rested state.
Second, you’re going to have a much higher rate of blood flow and blood content within the muscles that were worked.
Third, you’re going to have a high concentration of by-products associated with fatigue within your muscle cells such as lactate and H+.
Fourth, you’re going to still be psychologically aroused, which causes an array of neurotransmitter and hormonal shifts within your body.
Therefore, it is our job to build a bridge between this internal state and the state at which you should be in during a resting state.
The sooner we do this post-workout and/or post-game, the sooner your body will be in a position where it can start focusing on recovery and not on being physiologically/psychologically stressed.
Beyond building the bridge between exercise and rest, the cool down is an awesome opportunity to focus on some other things that you may need that can’t really be addressed during the warm up or workout itself.
For example, static stretching is something that has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce power output during exercise if you perform it within your warm up, but it is still very effective at:
- Bringing down your stress hormone levels to improve recovery
- Improving flexibility/mobility of the tissues you target
So, since it doesn’t make sense to put it in the pre-workout or during the workout window, we can very effectively add it to our cool down routine and emphasis any issues you may currently be working through (for example, tight hips can be alleviated by utilizing an intelligent hamstring mobility cool down routine).
Other added benefits beyond incorporating mobility into your cool down routine could be that you work on highly technical sprinting drills that you still have issues with, for example:
- Butt kicks
- High knees
- Shuffle variations
Could all be done in a low pressure, non-intense way so that you can hone your skill and perform them better in future sessions.
Designing the Cool Down
The cool down should always begin immediately following your last exercise.
Ideally, it should only consist of 3-5 minutes of activity. Some coaches get a little carried away here and have their athletes perform 15-30 minute cool downs, but this is completely unnecessary for a variety of reasons that we can discuss another time.
This 3-5 minute activity should effectively bring you down to a resting state and consist of:
- Light exercise
- Tissue-specific mobility drills that focus on your weaknesses
- Deep breathing
The light exercise allows your body to calm down as it is not performed intensely, but, the movement itself improves blood flow to prevent blood pooling and also recycles all of those fatigue by-products we talked about.
The mobility routine will very effectively bring your heart rate down, bring your breathing rate down, and return your mind to a state of calm.
Finally, the deep breathing acts as a direct switch to change your internal state from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) to optimize your rate of recovery as fast as possible.
Example Hockey Cool Down Routine
A1: Butt kicks – 2 x 10-20 yards with 30 secs rest
A2: Box shuffle – 2 x 5-10 per side with 30 secs rest
B: Supine pigeon – 1 x 15-30 seconds per leg
C: Iron cross – 1 x 15 per side
D: Alternating T-stands – 1 x 5-10 per leg
E: Deep belly breathing for 1-2 minutes
Deep belly breathing:
*This is a cool down routine that could be used to target hip tightness as well as provide all the other benefits of a well-designed hockey cool down.
**A1 and A2 are to be performed as a superset, meaning, perform your butt kicks, rest 30 seconds, then perform your box shuffle, rest 30 seconds, and repeat one more time to complete the two round super set.
The cool down will gradually return your body into a resting state.
It provides you an excellent time to work on current tightnesses and/or do some “pre-hab” work to prevent any chance of future injury risk.
If this time is used properly, it can enhance your technical sprinting ability, reduce your post-workout muscle soreness, improve your rate of recovery, and improve your mobility.