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Do We Need to Cool Down After Exercise?

October 20, 2009

(from NYT)

We often hear the benefits of cool-down after the exercise. They are in physiology textbook, in fitness or sport magazines and books. Well, my heart rate monitor would ask me whether I would want a cool-down of 3 min when I press the button to finish the recording. But is that necessary? This article from New York Times tells you not really.

In short, the benefits of cool-down are not clear. The only one agreed-on fact is to prevent the possible risk of passing out after the sudden stop of an intense exercise. But even for that, only the best athletes are most vulnerable. As for the ordinary people like us, it is not a great deal at all.

Then, why do we often hear that cool-down after exercise is good for us? That’s related to the myth of lactic acid:

The idea of the cool-down seems to have originated with a popular theory — now known to be wrong — that muscles become sore after exercise because they accumulate lactic acid. In fact, lactic acid is a fuel. It’s good to generate lactic acid, it’s a normal part of exercise, and it has nothing to do with muscle soreness. But the lactic acid theory led to the notion that by slowly reducing the intensity of your workout you can give lactic acid a chance to dissipate.

In fact, scientific studies have concluded that

  1. Since lactic acid is good, it’s better not to cool down after intense exercise.
  2. Cooling down doesn’t do anything to alleviate muscle soreness.
  3. No supporting data indicate that cool down can help ease muscle tightness.

So, what should one do after finishing the workout? The conclusion of this article implies: whatever you like.

In my case, I actually don’t do much cool down after finish my ride. I just walk my bike to my office. That’s it. :)

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