Lambie Cool Down 1130x600
Training Tips

Why every ride and race should end with a Cool Down

The Benefits of Ending Your Workout Or Race with a Cool Down Spin

At the Tour de France, and the Olympics, we see cyclists getting on stationary trainers or rollers right after competition. People understand it when it comes to track racing because the races are short and very high intensity. They don’t understand it as much for long road races or long training sessions, and it’s a relatively new phenomenon at the end of road stages at the Tour. This article would explain the benefits of ending your workout or race with a cool down spin and provide practical recommendations for amateur athletes.

In recent years pros and elites at major road and stage races have started cooling down on stationary trainers after the finish, which has led to renewed interest in questions about whether active recovery at the end of a workout or race has any real benefit. The short answer is: yes. The full answer is a bit more nuanced.

What the science says

A highly-respected 2018 review from Bas Van Hooren and Jonathan Peake concluded that, “In summary, based on the empirical evidence currently available, active cool-downs are largely ineffective for improving most psychophysiological markers of post-exercise recovery, but may nevertheless offer some benefits compared with a passive cool-down.” So, if an extensive review says they are largely ineffective, why are we still recommending them? Well, it turns out those ‘other benefits’ are worth the effort.

Facilitated circulation

During exercise your heart rate increases in response to increased demand for oxygen by working muscles. Blood vessels throughout the body dilate so you can circulate blood more rapidly and skeletal muscle contractions assist the circulatory system to pump blood throughout the body. Immediately stopping after hours on the bike, particularly right after a high intensity effort to reach the finish line, terminates this facilitation in an instant even though oxygen demand is still elevated and blood vessels are still dilated. In relatively rare cases, an athlete may faint if heart rate drops while peripheral resistance is low due to vasodilation. An easy pedaling cool down allows the body to more gradually wind down several processes that were greatly elevated during exercise.

Dissipating heat

Outside of delivering oxygen to working muscles, dissipating heat is one of blood’s most important roles during exercise. Muscles generate a great deal of heat. Energy efficiency for cycling is only 20-25%, meaning 75% of the work you do produces heat instead of forward progress. Blood carries heat from your core and working muscles to your skin, where the temperature gradient between the skin and air (or wet clothing) transfers heat to the environment. Sweat also carries heat away through evaporative cooling. Continuing to spin after the finish keeps circulation moderately elevated to facilitate the movement of heat to the skin. Maintaining airflow over the body with fans or by cruising around the venue will aid with evaporative cooling.

Distributing lactate

One of the biggest myths about an end-of-exercise cool down is that it is necessary for flushing lactate out of working muscles. Lactate is a natural product of anaerobic glycolysis and is reintegrated into aerobic metabolism and broken down to usable energy. It is not a waste product and it is not responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness. If you completely stop moving after the finish line and have elevated concentrations of lactate in your blood or muscles, your body can take care of it without any additional help. It just takes time. An easy spin accelerates the process because light muscle contractions maintain moderately elevated substrate utilization, and moderately elevated circulation distributes lactate throughout the body so it can be used for fuel outside the muscles that generated it.

Time for rest and recovery habits

Van Hooren and Peake’s review concluded that active recovery today – including light activity in the same or different exercise modality, stretching, foam rolling, massage – does not reliably improve tomorrow’s exercise performance any more than resting passively. Given the time, your body will reach the same level of readiness for tomorrow’s performance whether you cool down actively or not. In practice, though, athletes rarely rest passively for the rest of the day after a strenuous workout or race. Making a cooldown a consistent part of your training routine creates time for reflection on the work you’ve done (subjective feedback provides critical context for training data) and attention to post-exercise hydration and nutrition habits.

Cooling down should not be thought of as a “post-workout” or “post-race” activity. It’s not something extra that should be completed after your workout or race is done. Rather, consider it an “end-of-exercise” activity because it is a step in completing your workout or competition.


Hooren, Bas & Peake, Jonathan. (2018). Do We Need a Cool-Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response. Sports Medicine. 48. 10.1007/s40279-018-0916-2.