“After an intense cardio workout, my heart rate stays up and doesn’t come back down to normal for about an hour. Why is this? What can I do about it? It’s uncomfortable.” – Judy S.
First off, it’s not a dangerous situation, so you can also choose to let your body handle it over time. But since you’re finding it uncomfortable, let’s go through the various causes – likely you’ll realize one (or more) of them is the culprit. You may also be inspired to know the strategies covered here will lead to better and quicker results from your workouts.
Your workout is hard, which is good, but…
The main reason your heart rate doesn’t drop back down quickly is your workout was hard and your body is having trouble cooling down. The simplest solution would be to try less hard, but that’s a poor choice since it will slow your results. Instead, the following tips will fix your situation. It’s a compound issue, so practicing all of them every time you workout is going to help your situation more than just incorporating one of them. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t matter what kind of workout you’re doing. If it’s hard, these are your answers.
Lengthen Your Cool Down
Your body will cool down on its own, over time, but you can help it do this quicker. Beachbody workouts tend to have short cool downs, which is because almost all of our customers are worried about how much time they have to exercise, but we always encourage more if you need it.
You will often hear our trainers tell you to do whatever you need to recover after a workout. Many of our programs have a workout made for this slot. For example, in most of The Asylum workouts, Shaun T will recommend you do Relief, if you need it.
A cool down is designed primarily to help you slow your heart rate and stretch or, to be more precise, lengthen muscle fibers that have been contracted during your workout. This action enhances your body’s ability to recover beyond what it will do naturally, and your heart rate will follow suit.
Up Your Hydration
Lack of hydration is probably the number one reason your heart rate is slow to slow. Most of us are chronically dehydrated and should drink more water daily. Even if you’re not chronically dehydrated, workouts speed up the dehydration process and one of the first symptoms of dehydration is elevated heart rate. Dehydration can also lead to your heart rate not going as high as you’d like it to during workouts but don’t get confused, it’s part of the same problem. When you’re dehydrated, your heart doesn’t work right. That means it won’t go as high or as low as it should.
The best hydration strategy is to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up and do this every couple of hours until you go to bed. You should aim to drink at least half your weight in ounces each day.
During exercise, you deplete quicker, which is why most trainers build water breaks into their workouts. You should not ignore them! You’ve probably also heard that electrolytes, or body salts, are an important part of hydration. This is true, but we’ll look at them as a part of nutrition.
Fuel Your Body Properly Pre, During, and Post-Workout
Proper nutrition helps your body rebuild quickly after exercise, and slows how quickly you break down during exercise. A proper nutritional strategy can help you recover much, much quicker. This is a broad topic, and entire books have been written on it, but here’s a brief overview.
You should go into your workout properly hydrated, which includes not only water, but also electrolytes. Electrolytes are an array of minerals, primarily sodium and potassium. Most people get enough salt in their diets—too much in fact—but healthy people often get too little because they’re eating fewer processed foods. If you’re on a healthy, whole food diet, you probably get enough salt for daily activity but not enough for exercise.
This is where a good sports drink comes into play. Unfortunately, most people use these drinks when watching sports, which is bad for you. Many mainstream sports drinks know this, and formulate more for taste than necessity. You want to drink sports drinks when you’re exercising (or playing a sport) because then, you’ll quickly put their ingredients to use. Look for more boutique lines of sports drinks, as these tend to have less sugar and more diverse electrolyte mixtures, and are a much better choice for fueling your workout.
Workout performance and recovery are the greatest influences on how quickly your body achieves results and the key times to fuel for those are pre- and post-workout. Going into a workout properly fueled enhances your ability to train harder. Proper fueling post-workout, when your body’s blood sugar (technically called glucose and glycogen) will greatly enhance recovery (up to 400% according to some studies), and the quicker you recover, the faster your heart rate slows down.
What you should eat pre and post-workout are broad subjects but there are many products on the market designed to fill these slots with targeted calories that are used efficiently by your body.
In closing, your body’s heart rate slows after a workout based upon how quickly your body recovers from the effort. This can be influenced by cooling down properly, hydrating completely, and following a diet that includes solid pre, during, and post-workout strategies.