Cooling-Down After Workouts?

Written By: Coach Walt G
It is largely accepted that warming up helps prime ourselves and increases our performance in workouts yet the jury is still out on whether or not performing a cool-down can improve our recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
So the question arises – should I be doing a cool down after working out?
Is it worth it?
 What does the research say?
A recent review in the Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that cool-downs don’t necessarily improve recovery.
‘In summary, based on the empirical evidence currently available, active cool-downs are largely ineffective for improving most psychophysiological markers of post-exercise recovery, but may nevertheless offer some benefits compared with a passive cool-down.’
Now, to many of us, this may seem like quite a shock. Surely, cooldowns are a great way to let the body slowly return to normal heart and breathing rate along with flushing lactic acid away from fatigued muscles, therefore reducing soreness? Well, unfortunately, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is caused due to cellular breakdown after eccentric loading rather than a build-up of lactic acid.
Performing a cool down after this will not cause your cells to rebuild any faster than normal, that’s where proper diet comes into play, but that’s a whole other post for a different time.
There it is then, scientifically, cooling down post-workout offer minimal physiological effects in terms of reduced soreness and injury risk as well as improved recovery. Nutrition and sleep will be the main factors that contribute to increased recovery.
But there must be some good to a cool down?
What does anecdotal evidence suggest?
Despite the scientific evidence provided, in my experience cool-downs can affect and does have its place. However, this effectiveness is purely athlete based and different for each individual.
In my own training, I rarely do any form of proper cool down.
I simply follow the warm-up, get the workout done then after a couple of minutes get on with some accessories which in themselves act as a way to focus on proper movement and control while allowing my breathing and heart rate to return to normal.
Performing active accessory work such as this has shown to be more beneficial than a purely passive cool down of static stretches.
This is supported by a paper that investigated the effects of active recovery on muscle function following high-intensity training sessions in elite Olympic weightlifters.
They concluded that although cool-down strategies don’t necessarily promote increased recovery, some individuals responded far better to an active form of cool-down as opposed to a passive cool-down.
It is worth noting that the psychological effects of a cool down could be greater than the physiological. We can all appreciate that after finishing a brutal workout, it’s good to spend 5-10 minutes on the bike having a debrief with another classmate!
Therefore, cooling down is purely individual preference.
If you enjoy the feeling of stretching out your sessions to involve an active cool-down then go for it!
If you don’t feel up to it or maybe just haven’t got the time, don’t worry! It shouldn’t affect your subsequent training days that week!
Things to consider when cooling down.
If you are in the group that does feel like cool-downs benefits them, here are some things to consider when devising cool-downs.
Essentially what we want to be doing in any cool-down is bring your body from a heightened state to a more relaxed one.
How you choose to do this is very much personal preference.
Things to consider:

Breathing: Lots of research has gone into the effects of nasal breathing to help bring breathing back to normal after working out.
Light, cyclical, low impact movement: This would mainly look like going on the bike or rowing machine at the gym but could also include a light walk or if accessibility allows a short swim.
Stretching: You may choose to stretch any areas you feel are restricted. Stretching post-workout when muscle are warm and relaxed is the best time to help increase flexibility. Remember though, flexibility without strengthening (mobility) could do more danger than good. Look out for another post that will go into this topic in more detail.

Should I Cool-Down After My Workout?
So to go full circle back to the initial question. Should I be doing a cool down after working out?
The answer…Maybe!
Physiologically, cool-downs don’t seem to be incredibly beneficial, however, the power of the mind should not be underestimated and if a cool-down does allow you to feel better post-workout, then go for it!