The cool down, also known as the warm down in some circles, has long been a practice in many sports, particularly endurance sports. I know it was always impressed upon me by my mentors, teammates, coaches, and pre-Interwebs literature. It has been a consistent component of my rides and races that I almost always practiced barring some extenuating circumstances.
As a coach, I also encourage all of my athletes to incorporate a cool down into their rides, races, and events, and I build one into all of the workouts that I prescribed. It always "just made sense" to let our bodies gently come down from all of the physiological implications of a hard effort, first and foremost, our high heart rates. And of course we all heard many of the other reasons such as flush out the toxins, take care of the excess lactate that is produced, help calm our guts, and generally get us ready for recovery and the next workout.
This is a very succinct article that explains the merits of cooling down:
And here's one from British Cycling, who certainly has had some success with their athletes:
OK, so there's two sources indicating that the cool down is beneficial. But Dylan Johnson, who has a large library of YouTube videos, took a dive into this topic. Dylan certainly does his research and cites his sources. I like his take-aways on this one. Check it out here:
What I didn't hear are any significant negative aspects of a cool down, and I believe you would be hard pressed to find research supporting this notion. Perhaps one could argue that it's a bad use of time, but that's a stretch in my opinion.
I will continue to cool down on my own rides, as well as prescribe it as a coach. Stepping off your bike as you're gasping for air and your heart is in your throat just doesn't seem like a good idea. On a less extreme side of things, I personally use the cool down to reflect on the ride or race as well as get my thoughts together for when I am done. I'll plan out my recovery strategy for the day and make sure I'm setting myself up for the most successful way to finish up my day.
This article from USA Cycling sums it up nicely and points out some other benefits:
So while there's not a lot of hard science behind it all, it's worth experimenting for yourself.
Do you regularly cool down? If so, for how long? Or no cool down for you?
Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear what you have to say!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.