In all of my experience with exercise, I have always been advised to begin my workout with a warm up and end it with a warm down (a.k.a. cool down), whether that means an easy 200 yards in the pool or an easy 2 laps around the track. So coming across this article from the New York Times surprised me.
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.
Yet, Dr. Foster said, even though scientists know the lactic acid theory is wrong, it remains entrenched in the public’s mind.
“It’s an idea we can’t get rid of,” he said.
I’ll admit, I always wished this was true. After a long swim practice, I never wanted to warm down. I can recall skipping out on many a lap because I just wanted to get out and get going.
Today, I beg to differ. After a swim meet a few weekends ago, I did little to no warm down at the end of the day. The next few days were very sore ones.
One might also consider how warm down benefits a person after an aerobic workout versus an anaerobic one. Would a short and intense weight-lifting circuit require less warm down because the muscles were engaged for only a short period of time? Or would it require more stretching to loosen the muscles for the next workout?