In previous articles Perfect Swimming Warm Down and Warm Down Durations, Dr. John covered many key issues for warm downs and swimming. But perhaps there’s a more fundamental issue to be addressed first…do we even need to warm down? That question may seem heretical, as the importance of the warm down (or cool down as it is also called) has long been assumed, not only in swimming but in all exercise. However, a recent New York Times article has reenergized warm down opponents, with multiple studies casting doubt on the efficacy of warming down after workouts.
The seminal study for the anti-cool down theory was by Lay (2007). This study involved fifty two healthy adults of both genders. Subjects walked backwards downhill for 30 minutes on a treadmill. This unfamiliar exercise was designed to remove any training effect that might taint the results. Experimental groups included 1) warm up only, 2) cool down only, 3) warm up and cool down, and 4) neither warm up nor cool down. Warm ups and cool downs were both ten minutes. Authors found, “Warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness but cool-down performed after exercise does not.”
Olsen (2012) had similar findings with subjects performing front lunges in the gym. The control group (no warm up or cool down) experienced increased muscle sensitivity in the first two days post-exercise, which is another way of saying more soreness. The warm up group, who performed twenty minutes of cycling prior to exercise, saw no difference in sensitivity on either day. The cool down group performed twenty minutes cycling after the lunge set. The cool down group saw increased muscle sensitivity the first day but not the second day after exercise.
Rey (2012) studied professional soccer players with two groups: an active recovery group (cool down of 12 minutes easy jogging followed by 8 minutes static stretching) and a passive recovery group (twenty minutes seated on a bench). Before training, athletes were tested on jumping, sprinting, agility, and lower limb flexibility. Authors also tracked heart rate and ratings of perceived exertion, neither of which differed regardless of recovery strategy. As for performance measures, sprinting, agility, and flexibility had no difference between groups but there was a significant improvement in Countermovement Jump in the cool down group.
In a companion study involving 31 professional soccer players in the same protocol as above, authors found no difference in muscle soreness or muscle contractility between the active (cool down) and passive recovery (non-cool down) groups. (Rey 2012)
A related issue is incorporating cool downs within a meet, as swimmers frequently race multiple events at each meet. We discussed this issue previously in Swimming Warmup Timing
“Toubekis (2008) studied swimmers in two 100-m time trials separated by fifteen minutes. After experimenting with several active and passive recovery variations, results showed that five minutes active recovery during this fifteen minute period was the superior strategy compared to ten minutes active recovery and any duration of passive recovery.
Similarly, Felix (1997) studied ten female D-III swimmers in two 200m time trials separated by fourteen minutes with three different recovery conditions: active swimming, rowing, and passive recovery. Active recovery lasted ten minutes separated by two minute blocks from the first and second time trial. Both active recovery conditions yielded better performance in the second time trial as compared to passive recovery.”
Based on these studies, an active recovery between events (which was essentially a cooldown from the first race), resulted in improved performance versus the passive recovery. These results would support the common practice of cooling down after each race within a meet and would support the traditional routine of cooling down after each practice.
Though the tangible benefits of cool downs are still open to challenge, there has been no research to suggest cool downs are harmful. However, based on this research, making athletes do a formal cool down after dryland appears less important, but again, there’s nothing to suggest it is harmful. Further, modern practice has evolved more enlightened cool down methods than those used in the studies (submaximal running or cycling followed by static stretching were among the cool downs used). Swimming studies did show improved performance when cooling down between races, which would seem more relevant than non-athletes walking on a treadmill or performing lunges in the gym.
- Law RY, Herbert RD. Warm-up reduces delayed onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial. Aust J Physiother. 2007;53(2):91-5.
- Olsen O, Sjøhaug M, van Beekvelt M, Mork PJ. The effect of warm-up and cool-down exercise on delayed onset muscle soreness in the quadriceps muscle: a randomized controlled trial. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Dec;35:59-68. doi: 10.2478/v10078-012-0079-4. Epub 2012 Dec 30.
- Rey E, Lago-Peñas C, Casáis L, Lago-Ballesteros J. The effect of immediate post-training active and passive recovery interventions on anaerobic performance and lower limb flexibility in professional soccer players. J Hum Kinet. 2012 Mar;31:121-9. doi: 10.2478/v10078-012-0013-9. Epub 2012 Apr 3.
- Rey E, Lago-Peñas C, Lago-Ballesteros J, Casáis L. The effect of recovery strategies on contractile properties using tensiomyography and perceived muscle soreness in professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):3081-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182470d33.
- Toubekis, A. G., Douda, H. T., & Tokmakidis, S. P. (2005). Influence of different rest intervals during active or passive recovery on repeated sprint swimming performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 93, 694-700.
- Felix, S. D., Manos, T. M., Jarvis, A. T., Jensen, B. E., & Headley, S.A. (1997). Swimming performance following different recovery protocols in female collegiate swimmers. Journal of Swimming Research, 12, 1-6.