Variations on the Cooldown

After grinding through those gut-wrenching 400m repeats or exhausting yourself in a 10K race, there’s one thing left to do before the workout is actually done: the cooldown.

Traditionally, we’ve looked at the cooldown as a way to clear out all of those nasty, fatiguing byproducts. We’ve all shuffled around for a kilometre or two to satisfy our coach’s wishes. And while this clearing-out-fatigue theory sounds great, there’s more to the cooldown than we give it credit for.

Researchers looking at how animals and people deal with various physical and psychological stressors have started to see a pattern: Those who cope best have a rapid activation of the stress response, and then a quick and efficient termination of this response. In other words, our bodies know when to send all of those stress hormones and a rush of adrenaline to help us get through the stressor, but as soon as the stressor is removed, they should also switch quickly into a recovery mode. Switching off the stress response allows the body to start repairing and adapting in ways that lead to desired improvement.

The cooldown can be seen as a way to accelerate the termination of the stress response. That means getting our stress response to flip from one of breaking down (catabolic) to one of building up (anabolic).

Try these three ways to spice up the cooldown for maximising training:


Research has shown that social environment can have a large effect on the release of hormones like testosterone. In a study published in Physiology & Behavior, researchers found that changes in testosterone after a soccer match were related to how connected the players felt socially to their teammates. Similarly, testing done on Olympic athletes has shown that the level of testosterone postgame changed based on whether the players were engaging socially with their teammates or spending that time isolated, playing around on their mobile phones.

We can take advantage of this effect on the cooldown by interacting with others. Even if you work out alone, find a buddy you can call afterward to join you.


We can work at getting our body back to a relaxed state with the influence of external stimuli. Research has shown that simple things like music can reduce postexercise cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of the body’s primary stress hormones, which works to get us prepared for the exertion we are undertaking.

After you finish your workout, cool down to some music that is relaxed and soothing. If you listen to music while you work out, switch from up-tempo to something more mellow.


We get caught up in a set pattern of one- to three-kilometre cooldowns. It becomes ingrained. We’re missing out on the physiological and psychological advantages of a longer cooldown. An extended effort allows us to get in some easy aerobic work in a prefatigued state, creating a nice boost to our general aerobic abilities. It also helps accelerate the return to baseline. A relaxed and extended run tends to change stress levels to a more desirable level, almost like a recovery run would.

Instead of the traditional 3K cool down, try to get in six or more kilometres at an easy pace. It will allow you to reap some training benefits while unwinding from the workout.

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