Leave the Gym Stiff, Come Back Stiff

Jesse Irizarry


Strength and Conditioning, Strength Training


Do a quick Google search and you’ll find no shortage of articles that describe protocols that warm up your core temperature and specific patterns of movement. There are more resources than ever before that describe how to warm up to ensure efficient movement during training.


You may even find a collection of peer reviews articles I compiled a couple of years back that showed everything I could find pertaining to the research of warming up. The truth is that there’s much more information available concerning warming up for workouts over cooling down afterward.



After many years focusing on the value of warming up, I’ve since changed my focus to finding the practical use of a cooldown for my clients and athletes. It is valuable to realize that what you do after training helps to ensure you can come back healthier, more mobile, and more prepared to train the next time.


Cooling down properly has a great impact on improving longevity and reducing the risk of injury. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn directly under a handful of world-class Russian Olympic weightlifters and coaches who have a motto that I’ve adopted: leave the gym stiff, come back stiff.


Focus on the Big Picture

If you were to leave the gym right after a day of heavy squats, you’d walk around the rest of the day in a more extended spinal position. Most people are already extended and when they leave the gym the lack of cooldown exacerbates bad posture. Any length of time in this more exaggerated position causes problems. The pattern often continues day after day and week after week until something eventually gives, usually the person’s lower back.


The main points to address when I’m getting clients to cool down and relax from the tension of their training session is to release the extension in their spine and bring their breathing and heart rate down.


The importance of releasing the extension in the spine is easy to understand when you look at the demands of heavy lifting, particularly squatting. When we brace under a heavy load, it's important to keep a global extension of the spine to keep rigidity under the bar.



This not only protects our backs but also allows for efficient transfer of force throughout the body. This extension has more to do with the upper back, or thoracic spine, being extended to match the normal curvature of the lower back, or lumbar spine, instead of an exaggerated lower-back super-arched position.


Release Your Spinal Tension

Taking 5-10 minutes after training to release the tension in the muscles that lock you into extension can go a very long way. The areas of focus would be hip flexors, glutes, and quads—all of which can be released by going through some very basic stretches.






It is important to practice deep relaxing breathing while you perform these stretches. This does three things: it slows the heart rate, it returns the breath to an easy, natural rhythm, and it allows you to relax into these stretches which actually makes them useful.


If you're tense during stretching, you’re not sending a signal to tell the muscles to relax and you’re not really doing anything but wasting time. Deep breathing helps the entire system relax and helps you sink further into the stretch.



It is also important to put your spine in a rounded position and use the same principles of deep breathing and relaxation to once again allow the muscles that hold you in extension to release and allow for a more natural and neutral position afterward.


This can change depending on what’s helpful for the individual person. It doesn’t need to be super complicated or wrapped in a dogma of belief as to what mobility or restorative protocol is best. It can just be a regular deep breath into the areas of tightness.


Meet Jay: The Perfect Example

Jay is in his thirties and is a small business owner. Jay has been a practitioner of jiu-jitsu, judo, and mixed martial arts for decades. He spends a lot of his time compressed and twisted in these combat sports. What’s worse is that Jay has a job that requires him to spend an ungodly amount of time driving in his car in New York City traffic.


Jay uses weight training to balance out his posture from being constantly rounded and compressed. The extension needed for lifting weights helps him achieve this better balance. Jay still needs dedicated time at the end of training to relax his musculature and neural signals.


To facilitate this, we have practiced a simple breath drill variation that I have found to be effective for him—a sort of yoga child's pose position that helps release his spine. The result is he’s been able to continue all of his training and improve even with all the demands of his life—exactly what should happen for every trainee.





You might also like The Comprehensive Rowing Warm Up And Cool Down.


Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.

See more about: , , , , , , ,
Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Breaking Muscle Newsletter

Get updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.