To Cool Down or Not To Cool Down?

Should you cool down after running?

Should you cool down after running?  That is  a very good question…and one which has not been satisfactorily answered to date!

Traditionally, the cool down has included some two to twenty minutes of running (or run/walking) at an intensity much lower than the main part of the workout, as well as some stretching of the main muscles groups used.

It’s an established “fact” that the cool down is an important part of your training session. Cooling down, the narrative goes, will help you to recover quickly and get your body ready for your next bout of exercise.


It turns out, there’s not a great deal of evidence to support this. In fact, there’s been very little scientific research done on the topic at all.

What a traditional cool down after running will do for you.

  • Speed up the rate at which lactate is cleared from the bloodstream. (Note it is lactate which is produced during exercise, not lactic acid)
  • Reduce the risk of dizziness and fainting
  • Help to prevent that post-exercise chill
  • Give you a feel-good factor whilst you’re stretching – it always feels kinds of nice to stretch those muscles
  • Put a mental punctuation mark at the end of your session, separating it from the rest of your day, and mentally signal you’re ready to get back to the daily grind!

What a traditional cool down most likely won’t do for you

  • Relieve muscle tightness
  • Relieve muscle soreness
  • Improve your performance in a subsequent bout over the next few days, unless it is on the same day.

Let me explain…

Lactate Clearance

Cool downs have been proven to clear lactate from the bloodstream more quickly than stopping moving completely after a run. This has, until fairly recently, been assumed to be a good thing, as lactate (or more commonly incorrectly referred to as lactic acid) has been blamed for the muscle burn you feel when you’re fatigued, as well as the post exercise soreness you might feel a day or two later. It’s now known that it’s not lactate, but hydrogen ions which cause that dreadful muscle pain and weakness whilst you’re exercising at a high intensity.

Whilst a cool down might clear blood lactate more quickly, that’s not going to have an impact on how you feel. It’s also only going to speed the process up by 30 minutes or so. Lactate will clear from your bloodstream within about an hour post exercise anyway. There’s also no evidence to suggest that clearing lactate more quickly after a run will aid in recovery or performance except in specific circumstances (more on that later).

Muscle trauma is the real cause of post exercise pain

Post exercise soreness is not caused by lactate. It is more likely due to the micro tears to your muscles which are caused by working out. These microtears are not something you should be alarmed about. They are how your body adapts and rebuilds to become stronger.

And there’s doubt as to whether a cool down and stretch actually relieves muscle tightness. Studies amongst soccer players found that cooling down after training had no impact on their performance, flexibility or muscles soreness the next day after training.

If you’re looking at reducing delayed onset muscles soreness, a good warm up is the way to go. A study published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy showed that you can decreased delayed onset muscle soreness by warming up, but not by cooling down.

Cooling Down can help you perform better in a subsequent same-day exercise bout

One study amongst cyclists did show that using a cool down after a 30 minute time trial gave a performance advantage in a subsequent time trial on the same day over the control group who did no cool down. It seems if you’re planning on competing twice in one day, or doing two quality workouts in one day, then cooling down might be useful.

Preventing Dizziness

One thing a post run cool down will do for you is help to prevent blood pooling in your legs. When you exercise, a lot of oxygen rich blood is shunted to the working muscles to transport oxygen and other nutrients needed for energy production and muscle contraction and relaxation.  If you stop still after you finish running, you run the risk of blood pooling in your lower legs, and possible dizziness or even fainting.

If you’re a particularly fit athlete, this could be more of a problem. Your heart rate will return to normal pretty quickly once you’re at rest, meaning it will be pumping less blood back up out of your legs.

Exercising for several minutes at a very low intensity at the end of your workout will mean your heart rate will remain elevated for longer, hence deoxygenated blood will be pumped out of your legs and back to the heart more quicly. The muscular contractions in your legs will also help to get that excess blood back out of your legs to where it should be.

It’s unusual for anyone to stop completely still after a run or a race. Most race finishes are set up so that you keep shuffling through the drinks stations etc for a couple of minutes. You might have a little sit-down after that, but then there’s finding your friends, getting home, going for coffee, so you’re really still moving at a low intensity for quite some time after a race. Same with finishing a run. How often do you have the luxury of putting your feet up and flicking through a magazine when you finish a run? Me… pretty much never. I’m often straight in from a run, getting dinner ready, doing the washing, getting kids out the door…

Post Run Chill

During a race the body is working hard to cool itself. This built in cooling system keeps up for some time after the race, even though you’ve stopped running and are not generating extra heat any more. The more gradual drop in body temperature a cool down encourages will help to prevent the chills.

Not cooling down might help to replenish glycogen stores

Lactate is used by the body in a number of different ways, one of which is to fuel your working muscles. Through a series of biochemical processes, lactate is converted to glycogen, which is one of the main sources of energy for muscles. When you finish a workout, particularly one which will have depleted your muscle glycogen stores, you should be trying to refuel your muscles as quickly as possible. One study amongst cyclists came to the conclusion that when the cyclists simply stopped exercising, lactate was turned back into glycogen and stored in the muscles, but when they cooled down, some of the glycogen was used up by the working muscles. It’s possible, that from the point of view of recovery and readiness for the next bout of exercise, cooling down might be detrimental.  Of course, you could counteract this by fuelling well after exercise with a good carbohydrate and protein feed. *********link this to the milkshake thing if indeed there is one on our website -might be in a recovery thing

Why a 10 minute run and a bit of a stretch might still be a good idea

Even though there’s no evidence to show that a traditional cool down actually does all that it’s supposed to do, there might be a couple of good reasons to cool down with a lower intensity run. These reasons have far more to do with training adaptations than recovery or preventing muscles soreness.

In a high intensity workout, the body will produce a lot of lactate. At some point, it will be producing more than it can readily use. By running after the main part of your session is over,  when you have a high level of lactate in your bloodstream, you’ll likely be teaching your body to use lactate more efficient.

Likewise, you could use a slow 15 minute run after a heavy workout to practice maintaining good form when you’re tired. You’ll teach yourself to run more efficiently when you’re tired, so don’t slump and shuffle through your next cool down. Be mindful of what you are doing.


So the good news is, if you really hate cooling down, you’re probably not going to be doing yourself too much harm if you don’t do it, but it’s a very individual thing. If you’re one of those people who swear their muscles ache if they don’t cool down after a run, then keep doing it. It’s not likely to do you any harm.

Fun Run Nutrition: Raisins vs Chews and Gels



Raisins are a cheap natural source of carbohydrates which have been found to be as effective as carbohydrate chews in producing a workout boost.



Researchers from California-Davis University have found raisins to be as effective as sports chews when athletes’ performances were tested in a 5km time trial which was conducted 2 days after a 2 hour run during which they consumed either raisins or sports chews. When just water was consumed during the 2 hour run, the athletes did not perform as well in the time trial 2 days later. The trial included only 11 athletes so it was a fairly small sample, but it’s certainly food for thought (pardon the pun).


This table shows you the nutritional breakdown of a couple of gels and chews, and raisins. Note the raisins do have some dietary fibre so could cause some GIT upset, but then gels and chews can have the same effect with some people.

GU ROCTANE GEL (one serve=1 sachet) GU ENERGY GEL(one serve= on sachet) GU CHOMPS (one serve = 4 pieces -1/2 a sachet) RAISINS (one serve = 35 gms-about what you can hold in the palm of your hand)
Weight 32gms 32 gms 30 gms 35 gms
Calories 100 100 90 100
Total Carbohydrate 25gms 20 gms 23gms 25 gms
Fat 0 2gms 0 0.3 gms
Sugars 5gms 6gms 11gms 24 gms
Sodium 125gms 40 gms 50 gms 20 gms
Potasium 55gms 40 gms 40 gms 364 gms
Vit E amt not stated amt not stated amt not stated
Calcium amt not stated amt not stated amt not stated 14 gms
Amino Acid Blend 1220 mg no protein no protein 800 mgs
Caffeine 35 mg nil nil nil
Dietary Fibre 1.7 gms


What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.  The only way you’ll know if raisins work for you is to trial them in training, NOT in a race. And best to trial it first in the off season. Don’t muck around with your race and training nutrition when a mistake might really make a difference to your race results. Personally, I like a gel with a touch of caffeine, but each to their own. I’m struggling with the concept of trying to get all those loose raisins under control whilst I’m running too. You can read the full article in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition.


Share your experiences with race and training nutrition below.

Good Recovery, Great Performance

Recovering well for a great performance

Training alone does not make you stronger, faster or fitter. The benefits of training only come after the hard work, during the recovery, when the body is adapting to the training you have put it through. The body reacts to the training loads imposed by increasing its ability to cope with these loads. This happens in the recovery time after the training session is complete. Imagine all the cells in your body saying to themselves, “Boy, if she’s going to keep doing this to me, I’d better get stronger in order to cope”.

Adequate recovery is one of the most important yet frequently neglected elements of any training programme. Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.

What Happens During Recovery?

Exercise causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen), as well as fluid loss. Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of overtraining often occur from a lack of recovery time

The training load which  you are able to cope with will be dependent on other factors – are you having a particularly stressful time at work for example, do you have a lot on your plate at the moment? moved house? Etc etc. Anything that puts your body under more stress may mean that you have to ease off on your training temporarily.

Short and Long-Term Recovery

There are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be built into a year-round training schedule. Both short and long-term recovery are important for optimal sports performance.

Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Short term active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout. as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits. One form of active recovery is the recovery run.

Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise, and optimizing protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size) by eating the right foods in the post-exercise meal. Try sports drinks with a 4:1 or 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio such as Endurox R4, or the Science in Sport Rego Recovery drink. These should be taken immediately after exercise. You could also try a skim milk shake (no ice cream!)

Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Active recovery is also an important part of long term recovery.  Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.  Having a well planned training programme specific to your individual needs and circumstances is critical to getting the most out of your training.

How Do I Know If I Am Recovered?

The amount of recovery time you need will depend on how well you are adapting to training. A monitoring system can be useful to ensure that you spot any signs of excessive fatigue before you go too far down this road. A training diary is a valuable training tool. Our on-line coaching offers you the facility to log a number of training parameters. It also means you can track your training and performance over time and view it in an easily manged format , which is a great aid in planning your next training cycle.

Poor training recovery leads to:

  • Consistent drop in performance – endurance and speed suffers – you can spot this by keeping track of training and race times – anything more than an unexplained drop of 5% should sound alarm bells.
  • Lack of improvement over a period of time (depending a bit on your age-it’s unlikely you’ll keep posting outright better times when you’re in your 60’s)
  • Inability to concentrate properly
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Altered heart rate during training – elevated or suppressed
  • Change in mood – grumpy!
  • Loss of interest in the sport
  • Recurring illnesses
  • Poor sleep
  • Feelings of fatigue despite rest
  • Weight and appetite changes – Likely to lose weight and lose interest in food

Consistently poor training recovery without reducing training load can lead to over training

Over training may be accompanied by one or more symptoms such as:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Feeling of general malaise

What should you do if you think you are over training?

  • The most important and immediate thing to do is rest. Whilst you are resting, you’ll have plenty of time too look at your training log  – has the volume or intensity of training increased significantly, have you had rest days? Are you suffering from a chronic lack of sleep? Your training diary should record as much about your training as possible-intensity, distance, speed, heart rate sleep
  • Consult a professional who can give you sound advice on a training program appropriate for you.  A training program designed with YOU in mind can be the difference between a great performance and an average performance.

10 Ways To Recover Quickly After Exercise

  • Cool Down. Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes after a workout helps to flush metabolites out of your muscles, and may reduce muscles stiffness.
  • Replace Fluids. You can lose a lot of fluid during exercise. Filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating. An electrolyte replacement drink particularly in the warmer months is recommended. For sessions longer than 1 hour, it is advisable to take fluid and electrolytes in during the session.
  • Eat Well. After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. Ideally, you should try to eat within 30 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate. You should then feed every two hours for the next 24 hours-or at least until you go to bed, keeping in mind you do not want to overeat. Small amounts frequently should do it. See above under “short term recovery” for information on recovery drinks.
  • Stretch. Whilst there’s not a lot of evidence that supports stretching as a recovery method that helps to prevent injury, lots or our runners feel that stretching helps to prevent muscles soreness.
  • Rest. Time is one of the best ways to recover (or heal) from just about any illness or injury and this also works after a hard workout. Your body has an amazing capacity to take care of itself if you allow it some time. Resting and waiting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace.
  • Perform Active Recovery. Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.
  • Have a Massage. Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and foam roller exercises for easing tight muscles. A good sports massage once a month in conjunction with self massage will definitely make a difference to those tired legs.
  • Take an Ice Bath, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers). The theory behind this method is that  repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Ice baths should only be undertaken under certain circumstances.
  • Get Lots of Sleep. While you sleep, amazing things are taking place in your body. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. In general, one or two nights of poor or little sleep won’t have much impact on performance, but consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis. Other studies link sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion. If you are unable to sleep the night before a big event, don’t get too stressed about it. Research has shown that the penultimate night’s sleep is more important for performance than the one immediately prior to the event.
  • Avoid Overtraining. One simple way to recovery faster is by designing a smart workout routine in the first place. Excessive exercise, heavy training at every session or a lack of rest days will limit your fitness gains from exercise and undermine your recovery efforts.

How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time. Alternatively, make use of your backyard pool during winter and stand in it for up to 5 mins. You may find you have to work up to this.

Recovery prior to an event

The period in which you wind down your training in order to recover prior to an event is called your taper. The amount of time each person requires to taper is very individual, and can best be worked out by trial and error. Be sure to keep a good record of your training and how you feel for the couple of weeks prior to your event, and of course how you felt and performed on race day. It takes the body about two to three weeks to register the positive effect of training, so you’re not going to improve your performance by cramming in extra training at the last minute.  Volume and intensity should decrease markedly in the two weeks before our event.  It is best to rest, eat well and prepare mentally (dreaming of the chocolate cake to come!)


At Hooked on Running we help runners of all abilities through our online coaching programs, which are tailored to an individual’s lifestyle, current fitness levels and running goals.

When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, join us.