When the game finishes there is no gradual slow down to a final whistle. Usually the game ends and players immediately go from high intensity movement to little more than walking or jogging off the field. According to some research this is not ideal for the human body. The popular argument goes something along the lines of lactic acid buidling up in muscles which needs to be reduced to avoid aches later. Low intensity movement is shown to reduce lactic acid faster than no activity at all. We recently had a meeting with one of the Men’s National Team staff who said that you shouldn’t leave the field until you feel like you could get right back on it again, which for most people means a significant amount of cooling down and recovering.
We are not going into further detail on the science to this as it continues to be debated whether this has any baring on recovery, and none of us are actual scientists! For the pro-lactic acid argument, we recommend reading (or at least looking at the pictures in) “Fitness Training for Soccer” by Jens Bangsbo.
There are of course other reasons to cool down. The first is that it gives us time to calm down emotionally. 5-10 minutes of light exercise and stretching gives players time to clear their mind of any perceived injustices that just occured in the game and maybe even think a bit about how they performed. This will more than likely improve the quality of your post-game meeting, should you choose to have one.Secondly, cooling down is normally carried out as a team activity, together as a group. This can help bring players back into the collective spirit, if it came into question during the game
Low Intensity Movement
If you are lucky, you can remain on your half of the field after the game to cool down. In reality there might be another game waiting to begin, that is probably starting late, with lots of impatient players, coaches, and referees already pacing on to the field as. If the latter is the case, you will need to find some space around the complex. They key is to keep the heart rate within the low intensity range of 60-70% of maximum. This usually means light jogging, complete with various sychronised movements (high knees, reaching with arms etc) for a full five minutes. If your team are old enough, it is common to have a captain (or enthusiastic volunteer) lead these variations as they go. This improves team bonding, and gives you time to think about what (if anything) you are going to say. A sample five minute routine could be: –
- High knees (10-20 seconds) – bring knees up so that thighs are parrallel to the ground, lightly slap hands on legs.
- Seat/butt kickers (10-20 seconds) – bring ankle up behind leg to make light contact, knee fully bent
- Inside stepovers (10-20 seconds each side) – while jogging, every few steps lift right leg from wide outside to almost crossing over front of left leg. Similar motion to trying to step over a low wall. Switch to the same on the left leg.
- Ouside stepovers (10-20 seconds each side) – reverse of previous: leg starts inside and rotates outwards, opening up body.
- Carioca – (10-20 seconds each side) run sideways alternating between right leg crossing over left then left crossing over right. This is not called Karaoke – which is singing.
- Skip – (10-20 seconds) skip high with arms reaching up alternately
- Long strides – (10-20 seconds) like slow motion or underwater running, this is exaggerated movement of simple walking, taking long strides and swinging arms.
Between each of the above the group return to light jogging for 20-30 seconds.
Again, debate rages here about static vs dynamic, how much time to hold static stretches, and whether to do them at all. Research does suggest that during intense exercise muscles tighten up/contract. Stretching is aimed to bring them back out to their previous length, or even to increase their flexibility. Current teaching tends to lean towards dynamic stretching before exercise and static afterwards. For the sake of argument, we will list a sample routine of static stretching, limited to 8 seconds for each one.
Calves – from standing, cross one leg in front of the other, keeping both straight and in contact. Slowly reach down your legs with your hands until you feel the stretch in the calf muscle at the back of the back leg. Hold for 8 seconds, repeat for the other leg.
Quads – From squatting on toes, put hands down behind on the ground. Keeping feet under legs, lean weight forward and push down on one knee until you feel the stretch in that quadricep. Repeat for other leg. This is better than the traditional stand on one leg approach as it doesn’t rely on balance.
Hamstrings – from laying on the ground on your back, bring one leg up straight, until you feel a stretch in the back of that leg (hamstring). Hold leg below the knee with arms. Repeat for the other leg.
Hip Flexor – From the previous stretch, laying on the ground, bring one leg over your body, sticking out at 90 degrees from the other. Shoulders remain flat on the ground. Move the outstretched leg up towards your head until you feel the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Groin – Sitting with soles of feet together, pull feet in towards groin, holding the ankles (not toes), lean forward, pressing elbows into knees to push legs towards ground. When the stretch is felt, hold for 8 seconds.