Cool Down

Just as warming-up is considered to be a good thing to do prior to a race for the reasons listed in the Warm-Up Archive, cooling down after a race is considered important for similar reasons.  It is tempting once a race is done to jump out and go party, but it will hurt you to skip on the cool down.  How much cool-down you decide to do depends on your experiences and preferences.  We have listed some considerations regarding cooling down below.

Goals.  The goals of cooling down include these;

  • To stretch out the muscles and allow them to loosen up
  • To allow for a gradual decrease in blood flow throughout the body and especially to the muscle groups used during the race
  • Dissipate lactic acid build up
  • These goals lead to the ultimate goals of reducing recovery time and improving future performance

Event.  Much of what you do in cool-down will depend on what event(s) you swam in competition.  If you sprinted, you may only need a few hundred yards or meters to properly cool down.  Distance swimmers usually need more since their events take more of a toll on the body.  Strokers will want to cool down using their strokes or stroke drills (at least for a little bit) for obvious reasons.

Our staff of Gugly coaches recommends all swimmers try to start the cool down at a moderate pace and gradually decrease the intensity to a very easy swim.  We prefer to err on cooling down more versus less.  Rarely do well trained swimmers get themselves tired from cool-down, but often times they don't cool-down enough.  We have even witnessed swimmers who get headaches and/or muscle cramping from not cooling down enough after an intense race or set.

Body Type.  Just as with warming-up, the makeup of a swimmer's body is supposed to be linked to how much cool down is needed.  It is theorized that larger bodies, especially those with large muscle mass, should cool down a little bit longer than those with more petite physiques.  The theory claims that it takes larger people longer to get their blood adequately circulated throughout their larger muscles.  It also asserts that more stretching is also necessary to loosen the muscles up, especially if the muscle groups are shorter vs. longer.  This is because shorter, more dense muscle groups are more tight by nature and need more time to get loose and 'cool'.

Point In Cycle. Where a swimmer is in his or her training cycle will also play a part in how much cool down gets done.  Swimmers in the middle of their cycle may need less cool down than those at the end of their cycle or during a taper.  This theory is believed to be true because those swimmers at the end of a cycle are doing far less mileage and their muscles are subsequently being conditioned to resting.  In order to lessen the extremes of a taper, more warm-up and cool down is recommended.  Sometimes, swimmers do the opposite, because during a taper, they feel so good and loose.  Don't be fooled though.  It may be to your detriment to slack off in cool-down for your biggest meets.

Is this an absolute truth?  No.  But it seems to make sense, and may be true for many people.  Each athlete needs to judge the true effect on him or her individually.

Environment. The environmental conditions in which the cool-down occurs also play a role in how a it is done.  If the pool and/or air temp is very cold, a longer cool-down is usually necessary.  Muscles that have been extremely strained tend to stay tight and/or become even more tight in a cold environment.

Timing.  Try to cool down as soon as possible after a race.  Try to spend as little time as possible out on deck, regardless of whether you won or lost and get your butt in the pool to cool-down!  The longer a swimmer waits in between the race and the cool-down, the more damage that is being done to the body--or, at least, the more recovery time that will be needed to get the muscles ready to compete again.  Try it.  After a race, just stand around for a while (an hour or so) before cooling down, or better yet, wait until the next race without cooling down at all.  You should notice that your muscles tighten up as you stand around and when you go to swim again, your lactic acid from the last race is still lingering in your arms and legs.  You will swim slower than if you had cooled down immediately after the race.

Experience. A swimmer's own personal experiences with cooling down are probably the biggest guide to determining the proper cool down.  Using workouts and past races as guides, each swimmer should be able to objectively put weights on the factors above without letting laziness factor into the equation.  Using those experiences, he or she should be able to customize their own cool down to maximize recovery and future success.  If a swimmer has had success in the past with a long, very easy cool downs, and if another has done well with short, but a little bit more intense cool downs, then each swimmer should do what works.  One caveat, however, is that swimmers should always pay attention to how they cool down and the results each produces.  They should attempt to experiment with different cool downs for less important events and with workouts, and gauge the results for use in more important events.  Continually try to improve on the formula--don't get lazy!

All of these factors play a part in how a swimmer should pursue his or her cool down.  The weights given to each factor are dictated by personal preferences and experiences.  As a result, Gugly's stance on the issue is that everyone is different mentally and physically, therefore everyone needs to cool down in a different manner.  It is up to the swimmer to judge how much cool down is needed.  A swimmer must, however, be aware of the factors that theoretically should affect a swimmer's cool down and future race correlation.  And, by combining what they know with what they have experienced, they can create an optimal cool down for them.