So we have all been told to cool down after our runs, but what does that actually mean?
What is cooling down and how are we supposed to do it properly?
As physios we get asked this question from our runners ALOT, so we’ve looked at the available evidence and here’s what we found… (you can scroll to the bottom if you don’t have time to read all our supporting information!)
“A cool-down is considered easy exercise done within 1 hour after an intense workout.” It allows the body to gradually transition to a resting state and is widely believed to promote recovery allowing indiviuals to perform better in the future. It is also thought to lower the risk of injury.
There are 2 main ways to cool down. Most popularly is Active cool-down followed by Passive cool-down.
Active cool-down is often referred to as Active Recovery and consists of low intensity exercise. It’s commonly believed that an active recovery is beneficial because it helps your body get rid of the chemical by-products caused by exercise (e.g. lactic acid) more quickly than when you just lie or sit around. This, in theory, would mean that you recover more quickly, perform better and could possibly even help you avoid injury.
Activities like static stretches and foam rolling count as a passive cool-down because they don’t involve any exercise. Other passive cool-down activities are: massage, sauna, compression garments, cold-water immersion, hot-water immersion and cryotherapy. For the purpose of this article we will focus our attention specifically on static Stretches and Foam rolling.
So with 2 different ways to cool-down which is the better?
Let’s consider their effect on the following:
Removal of Lactic Acid
Reseachers in Australia and the Netherlands recently (2018 recently!) found that an active cool-down does NOT get rid of lactic acid any quicker than a passive cool-down. In fact Your body naturally gets rid of all extra lactic acid within 20 to 120 minutes after exercise REGARDLESS of what you do.
DOMS and muscle Injury
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is the soreness you get in your muscles in the days after doing a hard bout of exercise. There is some evidence that an active cool-down can decrease the effects of DOMS in professional and highly trained athletes but not necessarily in the typical ‘weekend park runner’.
Exercise (especially eccentric exercise) causes micro-trauma in your tendons and muscles. This is a perfectly natural process that allows the body to rebuild itself stronger in response to exercise. It is this micro-trauma that leaves you feeling stiff in the days after an intense training session or run.
Runners have reported that they stiffen up dramatically if they go straight to sitting down without having completed some form of a cool down. Whereas those who do extensive stretching and keep on the move feel alot less stiff. Would you agree?
Heart and Lungs
There is strong evidence that an active cool-down helps your cardiovascular system (heart) and respiratory system (lungs) recover quicker. These systems are highly active during exercise to supply the exercising muscles with sufficient blood and oxygen. These systems do not immediately return to rest but can be active for a considerable time after.
After an intense workout runners can finish feeling light headed, dizzy or in extreme cases pass out. Ever seen someone collapse at the finish line? This is because a sudden stop causes blood to pool in your legs. An active cool-down decreases this effect allowing your cardiovascular system to regulate making it less likely for you to experience those unpleasant symptoms.
Unfortuantely It’s not currently clear if an active or passive cool-down has any proven effect on injury prevention. You will find that it is commonly stated in blogs and articles that it is, but there is yet to be research to prove this.
All runners can benefit from the positive recovery effects that active cool-downs and passive cool-downs have on our bodies. Next time you’ve been to an intense training session or long run why dont you try and combination of the 2:
Start with spending 5 minutes to actively cool down:
Power walk- 1 minute
Lunge walk- 30 secs X 2
Buttock Kicks- 30 secs X 2
High Knees- 30 secs X 2
Squats- 30 secs X 2
Followed by a period of Static Stretches:
Quads, Hamstrings, Adductors, Calfs- 30 secs each
Finish up with the Foam Roller- 2 hours after your session.
Consider rolling each of the above muscle groups for 2 mins each.