Many people run through an active cool-down routine of about 5-15 mins of low-moderate-intensity after their training session, usually within an hour of finishing their workout. There is a common belief that it will enhance recovery, reduce the risk of injury, reduce muscle soreness, and enhance performance. These are all good intentions, but is there scientific backing behind these ideas?
A narrative review collated the latest research into the physiological, psychological and long-term effects of performing active cool-down routines after a training session. The evidence suggests there is very little scientific backing behind these claims, and may actually negatively affect training later during the same day. In the long-term, active cool-downs do not likely prevent injuries
Research does show that active cool-downs remove levels of lactate in the blood, but not necessarily in muscle tissue. As lactate is not attributed to post-exercise muscle soreness, it will not affect the likelihood of feeling muscle stiffness the next day, and may actually interfere with glycogen re-synthesis. Hormonal concentrations recovery are not facilitated, and also does not affect measure of psychophysiological recovery. It was noted that an active cool-down can partially prevent the depression of circulating immune cell counts after exercise, but it is unknown whether this leads to fewer infections or illnesses.
Based on empirical evidence, active cool-downs are largely ineffective for improving psycho-physiological markers of post-exercise recovery, but may nevertheless offer some benefit compared with a passive cool-down.
Van Hooren, B. and Peake, J.M. (2018). Do we need a cool-down after exercise? A narrative review of the psychophysiological effects and the effects on performance, injuries and long-term adaptive response. Sports Medicine. 48(7): 1575-1595.