As busy triathletes, runners, or cyclists, we are always looking for ways to save time. Whether out on the track, in the pool, or on the road, we often forget the importance of the cool down in all of our workouts; but especially those with higher intensity. Just like the warm up prepares the body for the workout to come, the cool down assists in transitioning the body back to a state of rest, thus preparing us for the next workout. So why is this important? Let’s take a deeper dive in how the cool down can help you perform at your best.
So what is a cool down?
The cool down is simply ramping down the intensity of your workout or exercise at 40% or less of maximum effort or power. In the pool, that may be 200-600 yards of easy swimming focusing on form. On the bike, 10-15 minutes of easy spinning at a higher cadence. And on the run, a mile or more of easy jogging. While you may cool down in a number of different ways, the goal is to slowly transition your body’s systems (respiratory, circulatory, etc.) from a higher intensity state to a normal or resting state. It may also be helpful to do some light stretching for flexibility, and begin to replace fluids during the cool down.
Why is the cool down important?
The main reason for an active cool down is it aids in recovery. And this becomes even more important as we age. Some would say that proper recovery begins with how you approach your workout in the first place. And that is true. For example, the nutrition you take in during your workout also helps with your recovery. But the quality of your recovery from a workout is enhanced with a proper active cool down. Finishing your workout at an easier intensity helps maintain blood flow to your muscles thus assisting in the buffering of lactic acid. The sooner you can “flush” the muscles out, the quicker your muscles can begin to adapt to the workout, and thus be ready for that next workout. Additionally, ending an intense workout abruptly may cause blood to pool in the legs. Aside from recovery, a proper cool down, particularly after a high intensity workout, may reduce muscle soreness or fatigue the follow day.
Skills & Drills
The cool down can also give the athlete another chance to work on skills and drills. In the pool you can easily cool down using swim drills instead of freestyle, or you can simply focus on various technical aspects of the swim such as the catch, rotation, head and body position, etc. On the bike the cool down can provide the athlete a great opportunity to focus on pedal stroke, cadence, or even bike handling skills. And for the run, we can learn and practice good run form at the end of a workout when we are most fatigued.
Lastly, an active cool down gives us time to reflect on the workout itself, and ask questions like: How did the workout go? Did I hit my targets? What could I do differently next time? As a coach it is not uncommon for me to have my long course triathletes walk for 15 minutes or so following their long runs or 7-8 hour brick sessions. I find this not only aids in recovery, it also gives the athlete a moment for gratitude, and time to reflect on their training achievement of the day.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…
As strange as it may seem, when I think of the cool down, I think of this line from the 1998 song “Closing Time” by Semisonic. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. While the end of a workout may seem unimportant, it really sets us up to recovery properly, both mentally and physically, so we can have a quality workout the next day. So the next time you are swimming laps, in the saddle or hitting the track, don’t skimp on your cool down. Your body will thank you later!