Reader To Reader: The Cool-Down Debate

Does a cool-down jog defeat the point of speed work? Certainly not, according to clued-up RW readers


Posted: 20 January 2007
by Jane Hoskyn


This week's question comes from a club runner whose coach thinks that cooling down defeats the object of speed work. Our correspondent isn't so sure. Let's just say that you knew where you stood on this one, and it wasn't with the coach...

"I wonder if RW readers could settle a hot debate in our club about speed work. Our head coach is suggesting a session for endurance athletes, as follows: Small warm up and stretch, then speed work (eg 2x5x100m), then straight into the car and drive home without a jog back to cool down. He feels that cooling-down causes your body to 'forget' what it has learnt in the speed work session. I don't understand the science behind it, and need your thoughts."Shachar's dad

Your best answers

  • What is your coach thinking?!
    The word "bollox" springs instantly to mind. What does the coach think your body is doing in the car while you're driving home? I'm quite happy to accept that cooling down might be irrelevant – goodness knows, I've sprinted in the front door at the end of a speedwork session, or come to a standstill at the end of a race, without a cool-down many times, and not been sore afterwards. However, I can't see that there is any positive physiological reason for actively avoiding a cool-down. I'll be interested to see whether Jane can make a digest of these responses that's fit for family viewing! – Velociraptor
  • Ditching the cool-down makes you faint and sore
    Think about it! Especially during 100m efforts, which I assume are at a fast pace, your muscles are making great demands for extra blood and your heart responds by beating faster to provide a quicker turnover of blood. If you come to a halt all of a sudden, your muscles can stop more or less instantly but your heart won't slow down anywhere near as quickly. It carried on pumping blood at a fast rate to muscles that no longer need it in such large quantities, so a backlog begins to build up, causing a reduction in the amount of blood returning to the heart. This leaves organs like the brain going short of blood, which results in giddiness and/or fainting. A cool-down helps to prevent this by keeping the muscles active whilst gradually reducing their workload. The pump action of the muscles aids venous return, so the dear old brain doesn't go short. In addition, by-products that have built up in the muscles during exercise are removed and lactic acid is re-absorbed, thus helping to reduce subsequent muscle soreness. – Ajax
  • Right science, completely wrong context
    He has the very slightest hint of truth... but he's extrapolated to complete bollox. If (and that's a big if – I'll come back to it later) you really wanted to retain activation patterns, then, yes, jogging afterwards isn't ideal. But the cool-down has an important physiological function. You could do the shortest cool-down that does the proper job (10-15min) rather than doing a long cool-down for the sake of a few more easy miles. However (remembering the earlier "if"), the only time I'd be concerned enough about retaining activation patterns to even consider ditching the cool-down would be if it was the last session before a fast-pace race, for example a couple of race-pace 200s a day or two before an 800m race. In the midst of winter training, it'd be completely pointless – such retention is a very short-term phenomenon. – Alex S
  • Your coach is dangerously wrong
    I'm currently on a gap year before heading off in Septemper to study Sports & Exercise Sciences, so I have some sort of knowledge on this. If you do just jump into your car without warming down, you have a serious chance of fainting, because the blood isn't allowed to flow back the other parts of the body slowly. If there is a mass flow to somewhere like the brain, the body can't handle it! Also, cooling down will aid in getting rid of waste products from the body, such as lactic acid. If you've ever tried driving home after a speed session without a cool-down, your legs will feel as though they are made of wood. Scientifically, avoiding a cool-down is possibly one of the worst things you could do. You are probably doing a lot more damage to you body than good. The only plus you could possibly gain is that you'll possibly put more effort into your sprints knowing you don't have a mile or two-mile cool-down afterwards. But, if anything, this would probably compound the negative effects of avoiding the cool-down. – Craig McLoughlin
  • Telly addict?
    Maybe he just thinks that the cool-down in the car is sufficient – or his favourite TV programme is about to start. – GymAddict
  • That's not all your coach has got wrong
    My first comment is that 100m efforts are a complete waste of time for endurance athletes. I suggest you sack your coach! You only want your muscles to "remember" the session if you're working on technique, as you do with swimming. With speedwork it's about developing and building muscle, so any talk of "remembering" is nonsense. My experience indicates that I feel better the next day if I've cooled down with some slow running after a hard speed session. – Mister W
  • Nice coach, rubbish advice
    Even if you jog a lap of the track it will help. Your coach may be a nice chap, but he is not going to do any of his athletes any good. – sanders
  • Maybe there's something in it?
    When I was an aerobics instructor, I worked with a chap who taught over 50s step aerobics (he was 50+ himself). He did cool down, but he never stretched post-workout because if he did his knees were so bad he'd need painkillers the next day. Maybe this hints at something your coach might have been thinking? – Craig Llewellyn
  • My body tells me to cool down
    I don't know much about coaching, but I do know that as I get older, a cool-down and stretch are the ways to avoid aches and pains the next day. My body tells me that! – Mick W


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Discuss this article

Hi everyone,

This week's Reader to Reader question was emailed to me:

"I wonder if RW readers could settle a hot debate in our club about speed work. Our head coach is suggesting a session for endurance athletes, as follows: Small warm up and stretch, then speed work (eg 2x5x100m), then straight into the car and drive home without a jog back to cool down. He feels that cooling-down causes your body to 'forget' what it has learnt in the speed work session. I don't understand the science behind it, and need your thoughts." (from Shachar's dad)

What are your opinions and experiences?

Can you offer any scientific explanation to support the coach's theory - or to refute it?

Thanks folks!


Posted: 14/01/2007 at 14:18

Hi.

Personally I always feel as though I benefit more from a speed session if it includes a cool down recovery run. For one it lowers the overall heart rate, and maybe antidotal but it seems to flush out the "lactic acid" that accumulates in the legs from a speed session.

For me a recovery type jog seems to aid recovery from the speed work and am more able to have a quality session the next day or so.
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 15:53

The word "bollox" springs instantly to mind. What does the coach think your body is doing in the car while you're driving home?
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 16:25

I agree with Vrap - buy the coach a book on running!!!!!!! That is really quite the most bonkers thing I have ever heard.

Maybe he just thinks that the cool down in the car is sufficient - either that or his fav tv prog is about to start.
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 17:45

"Bollox", If I may elaborate Vrap....."Total bollox@
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:05

I am wondering what distance your club members are training for if their speedwork consists of 100m efforts?

But i also agree with the others, you should be cooling down properly afterwards.

Has this coach actually got any coaching qualifications? If so, HOW?????
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:17

It'll probably do you more harm than good if you don't cool down afterwards. Tell your coach to swot up on his sports science!
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:23

Apart from anything else, if you roll straight off a hard interval session into the car and start driving, you'll probably crash. Well, I would!
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:44

What about if you don't have a car and have to jog, walk or cycle in order to get home? Does he recommend teleporting or astral travel (or are they the same thing?!)
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:47


K9
I must say I thought 'twas b@ll@x too when I read it earlier but I was too polite to say....

but seeing as you've all said it now too...


B@LL@X
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 18:56

He has the very slightest hint of truth, then extrapolated to complete bollox!!

IF (and that's a big if that i'll come to later), you really wanted to retain activation patterns, then yes, jogging afterwards isn't ideal.

BUT

The warm down has an important physiological function, and losing will outweigh any benefits. You could do the shortest warm down that does the proper job (e.g. 10-15min) rather than doing a long warm down for the sake of a few more easy miles.


However, (remembering the earlier 'IF') the only time i'd really be concerned about retaining activation patterns to even consider any of this would be if it was the last session before a fast pace race. E.g. A couple of race-pace 200s a day or two before an 800m race.


In the midst of winter training, it'd be completely pointless - such 'retension' is a very short term phenomenum.


Posted: 14/01/2007 at 21:36


JRM
That is a surprising session to be doing for endurance athletes. I might see the point of doing this in mid summer a couple of days before a mile or half mile race but otherwise it's a bit wierd.


Posted: 14/01/2007 at 22:04

Alex, I'm interested in these activation patterns you describe - is this a neural thing, in particular the sort of things that are stimulated by plyometrics?
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 22:32

Strange coaching. I don't agree with the his reasoning; I realise it's against conventional wisdom, but I rarely do a warm down, and when I have, I'm not aware of the benefit the next day or later on.
Posted: 14/01/2007 at 23:20

I don't know much about coaching, but I do know that as I get older, a cool-down and stretch are the ways to avoid aches and pains the next day...

My body tells me that!
Posted: 15/01/2007 at 09:40

Mick W. - I'd still count myself as young, and cool-down/stretch are the only way to ensure I can walk down stairs the following day! I know nowt about coaching but it seems counterproductive to me; surely the fitness obtained is still loitering in the muscles etc, otherwise we'd never get fitter...
Posted: 15/01/2007 at 09:42

Scientifically this is possibly one of the worst things you could do and you are probably doing a lot more damage to you body than good. The other plus you could possibly gain from this is that you will possibly put more effort into your sprints knowing you don't have a mile or two mile run/cool down afterwards.

However, this would probably aid the negative effects. I'm currently on a gap year before heading of to Uni in septemper where i will be studying Sports and Exercise Sciences, so i have some sort of knowledge on this. If you do just jump into your car without warming down you have a serious chance of fainting because the blood isn't allowed to flow back the oter parts of the body slowly. If there is a mass flow to somewhere like the brain, the body cannot handle it! Also cooling down will aid in getting rid of waste products from the body i.e lactic acid. If you've ever tried driving home after a speed session your legs will most likely feel as though they are made of wood, without a significant cool down!

Sorry for the essay but thought the scientific side needed to be addressed
Posted: 15/01/2007 at 20:42

My first comment is that 100m efforts are a complete waste of time for endurance athletes. I suggest you sack your coach!!!

You only want your muscles to "remember" the session if you're working on technique, like you do with swimming. With speedwork it's about developing and building muscle so any talk of "remembering" is nonsense.

My experience indicates that I feel better the next day if I've warmed down with some slow running after a hard speed session.
Posted: 15/01/2007 at 20:53

Hi a coach telling you not to cool down is crazy! seriously even if you jog a lap of the track. me personally try and get in 4 laps thats a mile, but then again i enjoy running lots of laps. i agree with mister w 100m sprints for endurance athletes! serious is this coach all there or what, he may be a nice chap but he is not going to do any of his athletes any good. 200m meters sprints are fine as long as your doing plenty of reps eg 16-20 with little recover and even that session does't come up very often

mile reps or 1k reps with a couple of mins recovery . I think i have only ever done a session similar to that once and that was jog the bends and sprint the straight.

Posted: 15/01/2007 at 21:19

Hi Tom,

Yes, the short term 'pattern retention' is a neural phenomenon. Repeated powerful depolarisations of the motorneuron increase its excitability. Its called potentiation.

It definately will occur in doing something like plyometrics, but of course plyometrics has other benefits too (strength / conditioning). If you do plyometrics one day, then feel springy on your run the next day, that's the potentiation. When after doing plyometrics for 6months and your more powerful in general, thats the strength / conditioning benefits. Those changes can influence movement patterns in the longer term.

P.S. Hope things are still progressing. As always, email me if you want to discuss things specific to you.

















Posted: 15/01/2007 at 21:48

Got to agree with the masses here!

Think about it! Especially 100mtr efforts, which I assume at a fast pace. Your muscles are making great demands for extra blood; your heart responds by beating faster to provide a quicker turn over of blood; all of a sudden you come to a halt, your muscles can pratically stop instantly but your heart won't slow down anywhere nearly as quick. Thus, it will still be pumping blood at a fast rate to muscles that no longer need it in such large quantities and so a back log begins; causing a reduction in the amount of blood returning to the heart; causing organs like the brain to go short resulting in giddiness and/or fainting.

A cool down helps to prevent this by keeping the muscles active whilst gradually reducing their workload. The pump action of the muscles aids venous return and so the dear old brain doesn't go short.
In addition to this by-products that have built up in the muscles during exercise are removed and lactic acid re-absorbed, thus helping to reduce subsequent muscle soreness.
Posted: 15/01/2007 at 22:15

- Any more advice on plyometrics? When I'm working days, I can't get out for a run, but can get to a gym for about 30 mins, and so at the mo I'm trying to keep up some bodyweight exercises (core strength stuff). Plyometrics sound quite good, I fancy having a bit of a spring in my running!
Posted: 16/01/2007 at 21:16

Plyometrics is quite appropriately considered 'advanced training.'

You need to make sure you have good leg strength, flexibility, balance, control etc. Before you do much in the way of plyometrics.

Rope-skipping should be ok to start (very 'little' spring movements) so long as you feel in control. But do plenty of basic conditioning indicated above before progressing to anything more demanding.

Also, don't do them in huge thick-soled training shoes - the shock-absorbtion will dissipate the very impact energy that you are trying to condition your body to cope with and utilise.

Headline = start cautious, be careful.




Posted: 17/01/2007 at 08:28

I haven't long joined Chepstow Harriers, and our speedwork consists of a mile or so gentle jog from the leisure centre to warm up, whatever speedwork we do then a gentle jog back. Seems sensible to me, can't understand what on earth your coach is thinking about. I thought the jog down got rid of the lactic acid...
Posted: 17/01/2007 at 10:22

it is. jog down is essential
Posted: 17/01/2007 at 21:18

I'm trying to think laterally about what could cause your coach to spout such, well, b0ll0x, and maybe it's....

If you train hard, you feel sore the next day.
If you cool down, you feel less sore the next day.
Therefore, if you cool down, you haven't trained as hard.

Something like that. Total b0ll0x, anyway!
Posted: 17/01/2007 at 21:41

does he think you will lose even less of the training effect by seizing up so you have to stay in your car over night?



hard (hockey)traing session + no cool down/stretching + drive home = Very Stiff Body Next Morning


probably thinks double straight leg raises and deep squats are good too!



Posted: 17/01/2007 at 21:51

I know very little, or nothing about 'proper' sports science. I used to work with someone who used to coach, and his (very basic) philosophy was...'if you want to run faster - go out and run fast. If you want to run longer distances - go on long runs'. Which I always thought was fairly simplistic but essentially right (please feel free to correct!)

The 100m distance seems a bit daft...especially for long distance running! As for warming down and whatnot...although i dont always do this after a run (I KNOW i should) as after some speed work I feel much more prone to cramping up and generally feeling sore if I dont wind down!
Posted: 18/01/2007 at 17:39

Is it April 1st today? No. Then I shall echo what the rest have said "BOLLOX".
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 08:17

I'm quite happy to accept that cooling down might be irrelevant. Goodness knows I've sprinted in the front door at the end of a speedwork session, or come to a standstill at the end of a race, without a cooldown many times and not been sore afterwards. However, I can't see that there is any positive physiological reason for actively avoiding a cooldown.

I'll be interested to see whether Jane can make a digest of these responses that's fit for family viewing ;o)
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 09:23

Yeah, thinking about it, sometimes I've zoomed to a standstill outside my house without a cooldown jog. However, I've always, ALWAYS stretched out afterwards, and even walked around for about a minute or so.
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 09:34

If I stop suddenly after a 'sprint' then, for reasons previoulsy mentioned, I am inclined to feel faint. I wouldn't even consider getting behind the wheel of my car until I knew that danger had passed - for my safely and that of other road users!
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 09:54

Maybe he's training for the sprint finish?...
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 10:06

I am with the masses on this one. Although even with a cool down I am usually a bit stiff the next day.

From my aerobic instructor days there was a chap who taught over 50's Step Areobics (was 50+ himself) and never stretched post workout (he did cool down). If he did then his knees were so bad the next day he'd be on painkillers. Not sure if this hints at something your coach might have been thinking.
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 11:14

100 metre efforts ? no cool down ? that must take all of 10 mins if that, sounds like your coach is in a rush to get home,
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 14:53

For me after a speedwork session a couple of cool down laps followed by stretching is essential.On the odd occasion i've not done this i've had severe leg cramps in the night.
Posted: 19/01/2007 at 19:13

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