Do Cooldown Sessions Help or Hurt You?

It’s a given that after a race or workout you do a cooldown—but is there any evidence this actually helps? The science may say otherwise.

FTL Potluck episode 319

Very little in sports culture is more accepted than the fact that after a workout or race you do a cooldown. Back in high school gym class, most of us would have been chastised by our gym teacher if we had gone straight to the lockers at the end of a hard effort.  

Even at the Tour de France, after a brutal six-hour stage, riders can be seen on their trainers focused on getting ready for the next day. Ask them what they’re doing and you’ll get a mix of explanations including bringing their heart rate down, clearing metabolites, and getting into a good headspace.  

The need for a cooldown came out of an old belief that we accumulate lactic acid, and if we don’t clear that acid, we’ll be sore the next day. The idea that lactic acid (which doesn’t exist in our bodies) causes soreness has long been disproved. So, we ask the important question of whether there’s still a good scientific or psychosocial reason for doing a cooldown.  

Coaches Rob Pickels, Grant Holicky, and Trevor Connor debate this question, bringing in a mix of science, coaching experience, and their own bias from doing more than a few races. They address the lactic acid theory, if a cooldown hurts or helps glycogen resynthesis, why muscle soreness is a concern for runners but not so much cyclists, and how to get extra points on Zwift without doing any work.  

Joining our hosts, we’ll also briefly hear from the owner of Apex Coaching, Neal Henderson; coach Kristen Arnold at Source Endurance; and author of The Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists, Dr. Andy Pruitt.  

So, take a 15-minute cooldown spin, and let’s make you fast!