When that workout is through and the shower is calling, the thought of spending extra time to cool down ranks right up there with organizing the junk drawer. Contrary to popular belief, recent studies suggest that post-cardio cooldowns may not speed recovery or reduce muscle sorenessWarm-up reduces delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial. Law, R.Y., Herbert, R.D. The University of Sydney, Australia. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 2007;53(2):91-5.. But following intense sessions, cooldowns might still be effective to gradually reduce heart rate and prevent post-workout dizzinessInfluence of cool-down exercise on autonomic control of heart rate during recovery from dynamic exercise. Takahashi T., Okada A., Hayano J., et al. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Yamagata University, Yonezawa 992-8510, Japan. Frontiers of Medical Biology and Engineering. 2002;11(4):249-59..
Pass On Passing Out — Why It Matters
Cooling down after exercise— especially cardio— has long been thought to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, helping speed recovery, and prevent soreness. But several recent studies suggest post-exercise acid buildup has little to do with impaired performance and may actually aid muscle recoveryLactic acid and exercise performance : culprit or friend? Cairns, S.P. Institute of Sport and Recreation Research New Zealand, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Aukland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Sports Medicine, 2006;36(4):279-91.. Other studies found that cooldowns have little effect on reducing soreness after a workoutInfluence of cool-down exercise on autonomic control of heart rate during recovery from dynamic exercise. Takahashi T., Okada A., Hayano J., et al. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Yamagata University, Yonezawa 992-8510, Japan. Frontiers of Medical Biology and Engineering. 2002;11(4):249-59.. When it comes to fighting that next-day stiffness, it seems a gradual, dynamic warmup is a powerful toolA comparison of post-match recovery strategies in youth soccer players. Kinugasa T., Kilding AE. Sports Science Academy, Singapore Sports School, Singapore. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009 Aug;23(5):1402-7.. More research is also needed to determine whether they burn more calories than immediately stopping after exercise, as the faster reduction in heart rate might affect a post-workout metabolism increase.
But don’t discount cooldowns just yet. During exercise, the arteries and heart vigorously pump blood to muscles in need, and more blood usually ends up going to the extremitiesIs postexercise hypotension related to excess postexercise oxygen consumption through changes in leg blood flow. Williams JT., Pricher MP., Halliwill JR. Univ. of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1240, USA. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2005 Apr;98(4):1463-8. Epub 2004 Dec 17.. But when the body stops suddenly, blood can pool in the legs, causing dizziness, nausea, and even fainting. Cooldowns encourage blood to gradually flow out of the muscles and reduces heart rate quicker than stopping immediately after intense exerciseInfluence of cool-down exercise on autonomic control of heart rate during recovery from dynamic exercise. Takahashi T., Okada A., Hayano J., et al. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Yamagata University, Yonezawa 992-8510, Japan. Frontiers of Medical Biology and Engineering. 2002;11(4):249-59.. So while cooldowns probably won’t help with the next-morning aches and pains, they can help prevent passing out in front of that hot yogini one treadmill over.
Time To Chill — The Answer/Debate
Perhaps the biggest issue regarding cooldowns is the lack of agreement about what they should consist of. While a common suggestion for cardio is to continue the activity for 5-10 minutes at a slower pace, ultimately more research is required before the most effective method is determined. Generally, however, the longer and more intense the cardio, the greater the likelihood of post-workout diziness, so cooldowns can perhaps be especially beneficial after difficult training sessions. So if cooldowns are already a favorite gym tradition, keeping them in the program can help minimize wooziness following exercise.
For an effective addition to the post-workout routine, consider dynamic stretching, which has been shown to boost recovery and help prevent stiffness after exerciseEffect of recovery mode on exercise time to exhaustion, cardiorespiratory responses, and blood lactate after prior, intermittent supramaximal exercise. Miladi I., Temfemo A., Mandengué SH., et al. Exercise Physiology and Rehabilitation Laboratory, Sport Sciences Department, Picardie Jules Verne University, Amiens Cedex, France. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Jan;25(1):205-10.. But if a run, bike, or row is especially intense, it might still pay to take a few slow laps to prevent that rush of blood to the head.
The members of OK Go use a brief cooldown to prevent post-workout dizziness.