To Cool Down or Not Cool Down

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Photo Courtesy: USA TODAY Sports-USA TODAY Sports

By Jennifer Yoo, Swimming World College Intern.

Done! You’ve touched the wall after the last set of practice or an intense race. You can finally take in a full breath of chlorinated air and float. Just as you begin to take off your cap and goggles, your coach instructs you to cool down…

UGHHH, FINE. You begrudgingly put your goggles and cap back on while only half listening to the cool down set. Yeah, whatever coach. You already did all of the hard stuff, so this means nothing –  right?

St. Mary’s College of Maryland breaststroker Andrew March would be in agreement. “Cool down isn’t needed,” he states. Bailey Edgren, a fellow SMCM breaststroker adds, “Warm down after a race if you have more racing to do, but who cares if you’re done.”

Many swimmers agree: cool down is just a tedious task after practices and races. It can be tempting to skip out on the cool down, especially after a disappointing race or practice. Swimmers just want to forget about it; therefore, the sooner they get out and away from the pool the better.

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Photo Courtesy: Kristina Posnick

While some swimmers stand by March’s statement, others understand the physiological and psychological importance of cool down. Becca Sonnenberg, a butterflier for St. Mary’s College of Maryland, acknowledged that cool down can feel like a long and boring task, but “it feels much better once you do it, and then your muscles don’t ache.”

So what is the right answer? Is cool down actually important, or is it just part of a mindless routine?

In any physical exercise, glucose is broken down for energy (along with fat, depending on the intensity), and the body produces lactate as a byproduct. When exercise intensity exceeds the lactate threshold, the body can no longer buffer the waste products of energy breakdown. At this point, hydrogen ions build up in the muscle and decrease the pH. At the end of a race or difficult training session, the body fights to replenish lost energy and repair the damaged tissue. If not flushed out properly, metabolic byproducts can cause soreness, discomfort and injury. As a result, one’s body needs recovery in order to replenish and prevent further injury.

Time and time again, research has shown that future performance is heavily dependent on how well you take care of yourself in the present moment. That includes an effective, active cool down.

Why You Should Cool Down:

  1. Allows you to mentally reset from your previous race or practice.
  2. Offers you time to check back on focal points such as technique, walls and underwaters.
  3. Flushes out metabolic byproducts from a practice or race and returns your body back to resting levels.
  4. Keeps you performing at a higher level more consistently, especially over long meets.
  5. Low intensity recovery work has been linked to positive psychological effects, such as improved mood and relaxation necessary to confidently go into the next big race.

That is why many coaches like St. Mary’s College of Maryland head coach, Casey Brandt, claim, “It’s always a good idea to cool down.”

How Fast or Slow Should I Cool Down?

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Hanging on the side of the pool for extended periods of time chatting with friends is not cool down. Nor is doing laps at a high intensity, because that will further strain your muscles. It is important to find a balance between these extremes.

Cool down is an active recovery that should involve low-intensity exercises. After intense training sessions or races, blood lactate levels increase, and active recovery allows the blood lactate to be worked out of the system faster than passive recovery (not cooling down at all). This will lead to feeling refreshed much more quickly and performing at a higher level with subsequent exercise.

How Much Do I Need to Do?

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Photo Courtesy: Erin Himes

“How much depends on where you are in training and what you are cooling down from,” Brandt states.

If swimmers are training without a competition coming up, a social kick/float would be appropriate. They’d come back ready for the next day of practice. However, if the swimmers are racing or approaching a competition, Brandt claims to write cool downs that add up to 1,200 yards or 20 minutes to extend recovery time.

The extended yardage and time are especially important during meets, between and after races. Coaches expect swimmers to repeatedly produce great amounts of power throughout meets. Therefore, participating in active recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise will benefit their performance.

What If There Is No Cool Down Pool?

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Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Not having a separate warmup/cool down pool is no excuse for not properly warming down after a race. There are an abundance of low-intensity exercises that you can do right on the pool deck. From rolling out your muscles to lunging around the pool deck, it is important to keep the body moving. Stretch out: never let your muscles stay tight so that blood flow can freely nourish and flush out waste.

Comment below!

What are your beliefs on cool down? What techniques best work for you?

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff. All research was conducted by the author.

11 comments

    • Anne Warren

      Frank Elenio I relate to none of the swimmers quoted in this article. Cool down is life

  1. Jim Bowser

    Yes, cool down. It helps get the lactate out of your system.

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