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
Bas Van Hooren
•Jonathan M. Peake
Published online: 16 April 2018
ÓThe Author(s) 2018
Abstract It is widely believed that an active cool-down is
more effective for promoting post-exercise recovery than a
passive cool-down involving no activity. However,
research on this topic has never been synthesized and it
therefore remains largely unknown whether this belief is
correct. This review compares the effects of various types
of active cool-downs with passive cool-downs on sports
performance, injuries, long-term adaptive responses, and
psychophysiological markers of post-exercise recovery. An
active cool-down is largely ineffective with respect to
enhancing same-day and next-day(s) sports performance,
but some beneﬁcial effects on next-day(s) performance
have been reported. Active cool-downs do not appear to
prevent injuries, and preliminary evidence suggests that
performing an active cool-down on a regular basis does not
attenuate the long-term adaptive response. Active cool-
downs accelerate recovery of lactate in blood, but not
necessarily in muscle tissue. Performing active cool-downs
may partially prevent immune system depression and
promote faster recovery of the cardiovascular and
respiratory systems. However, it is unknown whether this
reduces the likelihood of post-exercise illnesses, syncope,
and cardiovascular complications. Most evidence indicates
that active cool-downs do not signiﬁcantly reduce muscle
soreness, or improve the recovery of indirect markers of
muscle damage, neuromuscular contractile properties,
musculotendinous stiffness, range of motion, systemic
hormonal concentrations, or measures of psychological
recovery. It can also interfere with muscle glycogen
resynthesis. In summary, based on the empirical evidence
currently available, active cool-downs are largely ineffec-
tive for improving most psychophysiological markers of
post-exercise recovery, but may nevertheless offer some
beneﬁts compared with a passive cool-down.
Many individuals regularly perform 5–15 min of
low- to moderate-intensity exercises within
approximately 1 h after their practice and
competition (i.e., active cool-downs) in an attempt to
An active cool-down is largely ineffective at
improving sports performance later during the same
day when the time between successive training
sessions or competitions is [4 h. It is most likely
ineffective at improving sports performance during
the next day(s), but some beneﬁcial effects have
An active cool-down does likely not attenuate the
long-term adaptive response or prevent injuries.
&Bas Van Hooren
Department of Nutrition and Movement Sciences, Maastricht
University Medical Centre?, NUTRIM School of Nutrition
and Translational Research in Metabolism,
Universiteitssingel 50, 6229 ER Maastricht, The Netherlands
Institute of Sport Studies, Fontys University of Applied
Sciences, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
School of Biomedical Sciences and Institute of Health and
Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Sport Performance Innovation and Knowledge Excellence,
Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane, Australia
Sports Med (2018) 48:1575–1595
It is widely assumed that promoting physiological and
psychological recovery after exercise allows individuals to
perform better during subsequent training sessions or
competition, and lowers the risk of injuries. Various
recovery interventions are therefore used to facilitate
recovery after exercise. The best known and most widely
used post-exercise recovery intervention is (arguably) the
active cool-down, which is also known as an active
recovery or warm-down. Several surveys show that many
team sport players and athletes participating in individual
sports regularly perform 5–15 min of low- to moderate-
intensity exercises within approximately 1 h after their
practice and competition to facilitate recovery [1–8]. For
example, a recent survey among collegiate athletic trainers
in the USA found that 89% of the trainers recommended a
cool-down, with 53% of these trainers recommending
jogging as the preferred active cool-down method .
There is currently no formal deﬁnition of an active cool-
down; here, we deﬁne it as an activity that involves vol-
untary, low- to moderate-intensity exercise or movement
performed within 1 h after training and competition.
Examples of active cool-down interventions and their
suggested effects are shown in Fig. 1. The effects of
recovery interventions such as cold-water immersion
[9,10], compression garments [11,12], and cryotherapy
[13,14] have been reviewed extensively. By contrast, the
active cool-down has never been thoroughly reviewed. It
remains largely unknown whether an active cool-down
offers any beneﬁts compared with a passive cool-down
(i.e., no cool-down), and thus whether it is an appropriate
or effective recovery intervention.
The primary aim of this review is to synthesize the
evidence as to whether an active cool-down enhances
sports performance more effectively than a passive cool-
down when performance is measured after approxi-
mately [4 h after the initial exercise. This review also
compares the physiological and psychological effects of an
active cool-down to a passive cool-down, and discusses the
effects of an active cool-down on injuries and the long-
term adaptive responses to exercise training. The value of
static stretching and foam rolling as cool-down interven-
tions is brieﬂy discussed in separate sections because these
interventions are both frequently performed in combination
with an active cool-down.
There are various passive cool-down interventions such as
sitting rest, saunas, pneumatic leg compression, and elec-
trostimulation (see Table 1for an overview) [15–23].
However, most non-elite athletes do not have access to a
sauna or equipment for the other interventions, and most
practitioners also lack the necessary knowledge about how
best to apply these interventions (partly because of a lack
of evidence-based guidelines). Even elite team sport
players do not always have access to these recovery
interventions when they play away games . In the
current review, we have therefore only included studies
that have compared an active cool-down with a passive
cool-down that consists of sitting, lying, or standing
(without walking). Active cool-downs that combine exer-
cise with cold water immersion  are also excluded. We
have also restricted the review to studies that have inves-
tigated the effects of performing an active cool-down
within approximately 1 h after exercise, because ﬁndings
from a recent survey suggest that this most closely repli-
cates the cool-down procedure of many recreational and
professional athletes . Studies that have applied an
active recovery for several days after exercise are only
discussed if they have (1) applied the active recovery
within 1 h after exercise (i.e., active cool-down) and (2)
evaluated recovery before applying the active recovery on
the next day. Finally, we primarily focus on how active
cool-downs inﬂuence performance and psychophysiologi-
cal variables during successive exercise sessions or com-
petitions [i.e., approximately [4 h after exercise, or
during the next day(s)]. This type of recovery has also been
referred to as ‘training recovery’ . Studies that have
investigated the effects of active recovery between bouts of
exercise with relatively short rest periods (e.g., 20 min) are
excluded from the review. As such, the ﬁndings of this
review will be of primary interest to athletes and practi-
tioners who regularly use an active cool-down to facilitate
recovery between training sessions or competitions, but are
interested in what evidence exists that supports the use of
an active cool-down compared with a passive cool-down.
Relevant studies have been searched in the electronic
databases of Google Scholar and Pubmed using combina-
tions of keywords and Booleans that included (cool-down
OR active recovery OR warm-down) AND (sports perfor-
mance OR recover OR recovery OR physiological OR
physiology OR psychological OR psychology OR injury
OR injuries OR long-term adaptive response OR adapta-
tion). Forward citation and reference lists of relevant arti-
cles were examined, and databases with e-published ahead
of print articles from relevant journals were searched to
identify additional articles.
1576 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
3 Effects on Sports Performance
In principle, better psychophysiological recovery following
exercise may attenuate or prevent performance decre-
ments—or even enhance performance—during a subse-
quent training session or competition . The following
sections discuss the effects of an active cool-down on
measures of physical performance such as vertical jump
height and sprint performance measured later during the
same day or during the next day(s).
3.1 Same-Day Performance
Elite athletes often train or compete more than once a day,
so recovery interventions between training sessions or
events may help to restore exercise performance. This
section only discusses studies that have investigated the
effects of an active cool-down after at least 4 h of rest
between training sessions or competitions to reﬂect the
effects of an active cool-down on ‘training recovery’ .
Relatively few studies have investigated the beneﬁts of
active cool-downs on performance measured [4 h after
Fig. 1 Infographic of active cool-down interventions and their commonly proposed psychophysiological effects
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1577
exercise, and these studies generally found trivial (statis-
tically non-signiﬁcant effects), and sometimes even small
(non-signiﬁcant) detrimental effects of an active cool-down
on performance [15,28–30] (Table 2). For example, Tes-
sitore et al.  compared a 20-min active cool-down
(consisting of either land-based or water-based aerobic
exercises and stretching) with a passive cool-down fol-
lowing a standardized soccer training in elite youth players.
After a 4-h rest period, the athletes performed several
anaerobic performance tests. Both active cool-down pro-
tocols had trivial to small (negative) non-signiﬁcant effects
on anaerobic performance, such as 10-m sprint time and
vertical jump height. In a later study on futsal players,
similar cool-down interventions also had trivial to small
(negative) non-signiﬁcant effects anaerobic sports perfor-
mance measured 4.5 h after a friendly match compared
with a passive cool-down . Therefore, whereas active
recovery generally does beneﬁt sports performance when
the time between successive performances is short
(10–20 min) [31–35], the ﬁndings from the studies above
indicate overall that an active cool-down does not improve
sports performance later on the same day when time
between successive performances is [4 h and may even
have small detrimental effects. However, more research on
the effects of active cool-downs following others forms of
exercise is needed.
3.2 Next-Day(s) Performance
Conﬂicting ﬁndings have been reported with regard to the
effects of an active cool-down on next-day(s) performance,
with some studies reporting small to moderate magnitude
beneﬁts of an active cool-down compared with a passive
cool-down, and others reporting trivial effects or small
decreases (Table 2)[25,30,39–49]. Most studies,
however, report trivial effects, with some studies reporting
beneﬁcial effects and only a few studies reporting harmful
effects. For example, a study on sport students found that
an aqua cycling active cool-down had small to trivial
effects on recovery of maximum voluntary isometric con-
traction (MVIC) force and muscular endurance at 24, 48, or
72 h post-exercise compared with a passive cool-down
. In contrast, in a group of female netball players, a
15-min active cool-down consisting of low-intensity run-
ning resulted in a moderate magnitude decrease of 20-m
sprint time and a small decrease in vertical jump height
24 h after a simulated netball game compared with a pas-
sive cool-down . Interestingly, a study on well-trained
long-distance runners found that muscle power (as mea-
sured during a leg press movement) was likely higher
1 day after downhill running in the group that performed a
water-based active cool-down compared with the group
that performed a passive cool-down, while whole-body
reaction time showed a small decrease . Finally, a
study on professional soccer players found that an active
cool-down had a likely beneﬁcial effect on countermove-
ment jump performance 24 h after a standardized training
session, while 20-m sprint and agility performance showed
small harmful and trivial effects, respectively . Overall,
these conﬂicting ﬁndings may be related to the type of
cool-down performed, the exercise that precedes the cool-
down, the training experience of the individuals and the
individual preferences and believes. It should be noted that
all studies investigated high-intensity performances such as
jumping and sprinting and more research is required on
Table 1 Overview of passive
Sitting, standing, or lying rest Cold-water immersion
Sauna Hot-water immersion
Massage Contrast-water therapy
Pneumatic leg compression Cryotherapy
Peristaltic pulse dynamic compression Crycompression therapy
External counterpulsation therapy Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation
Compression garments Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Intermittent negative pressure Foam rolling
Vascular occlusion Static stretching
Local or whole-body vibration therapy Neuromuscular electrical stimulation
Ultrasound therapy Sustained heat treatment
Photo-/light-emitting diodes therapy
Passive recovery interventions are deﬁned here as involving no or minimum voluntary/intentional exercise
These passive recovery interventions are frequently used in combination with active cool-downs
1578 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
Table 2 The effects of active cool-downs on same-day and next-day performance
Study Participants (mean
Fatiguing exercise Active cool-down
difference; ±90% CIs
description of the
probability and effect
Same day performance
Cortis et al.  8 military men
(21.9 ±1.3 years)
16 min shallow
exercises at 60%
and 4 min
4.5 CMJ Pre-afternoon training:
BJ Pre-afternoon training:
6 km/h: -5.1%, small
8 km/h: 4.7%, small
10 km/h: -3.1%, small
12 km/h: -5.6%, small
Tessitore et al.
(18.1 ±1.2 years)
16 min low-intensity
4 min stretching or
16 min shallow
water exercises and
4 min stretching
4 SJ Dry: -1.2%, trivial
Water: 1.5%, trivial
CMJ Dry: -1.7%, small
Water: 2.9%, small
BJ Dry: 0.0%, trivial
Water: -4.2%, small
10-m sprint Dry: -3.7%, moderate
Water: 0.0%, trivial
Tessitore et al.
10 male futsal
(23 ±2 years)
1 h futsal game 16 min low-intensity
4 min stretching or
16 min shallow
water exercises and
4 min stretching
4.5 CMJ Dry: -2.8%, small
Water: -4.6%, small
BJ Dry: -3.7%, small
Water: -1.7%, trivial
10-m sprint Dry: 0.0%, trivial
Water: -1.1%, trivial
Reader et al.  8 male and 1 female
(26.5 ±4.8 years)
as back squat
and push press
15 min supervised
at 1 W/kg body
weight and stroke
frequency of \20/
4.25 CMJ Session 1–2: -
4.6; ±3.2%, likely
1.7; ±3.9%, unclear,
Next day performance
et al. 
19 healthy men
(23.4 ±2.1 years)
extensors at 60
55 and 50% of
25 min pedaling on
at 60 rpm (approx.
24 MVC 4.7; ±8.0%, unclear,
Weber et al.  40 untrained
(22.9 ±3.7 years)
8 min upper body
24 MVIC 1.5%, trivial
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1579
Table 2 continued
Study Participants (mean
Fatiguing exercise Active cool-down
difference; ±90% CIs
description of the
probability and effect
Rey et al.  31 professional
(23.5 ±3.4 years)
20 min low-intensity
exercises (12 min
running at 65%
velocity and 8 min
24 CMJ 6.6; ±5.3%, unclear,
20-m sprint -0.6; ±3.5%, unclear,
-0.7; ±0.7%, likely
10 physically active
(26.3 ±6.3 years)
15 min cycling at
Takahashi et al.
10 male long-
(20 ±1 years)
3 sets of 5-min
running at a
best 5000 m
30 min of aqua
15; ±12%, unclear
Dawson et al.
(24.2 ±2.9 years)
Football matches 15 min of pool
14 6-s cycle
3.2; ±2.7%, likely
CMJ 8.1; ±6.7%, unclear
10 trained female
(19.5 ±1.5 years)
15 min low-intensity
exercise at 40% of
24 5 CMJs in
Post exercise: -6.1%,
Wahl et al.  20 male sport
(24.4 ±2.2 years)
30 min aqua biking
at 65-75 rpm
24, 48, and
MVIC 24 h: 4.0%
48 h: 2.2%
72 h: 3.1%
24 h: 4.7%
48 h: 14%
72 h: 11%
1580 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
Table 2 continued
Study Participants (mean
Fatiguing exercise Active cool-down
difference; ±90% CIs
description of the
probability and effect
23 (13 male) and 10
female) Division I
(age not reported)
2 sets of 30 s
with variations on
treadmill at 1.0–1.5
24–28 CMJ 0.2%, trivial
20-m sprint -18%, moderate
Marquet et al.
11 world-class elite
BMX riders (7
male, 4 female;
20.9 ±2.1 years)
Pedaling at 70%
separated by 5 min
Next day, but
-0.8; ±0.6%, most
Taipale et al.
18 physically active
(25.6 ±3.5 years)
Bilateral leg press
with 10 910
reps at 70% of
Bilateral leg press
with 10 910 at
30% 1RM with
5 min passive rest
18 CMJ 33%, moderate
MVIC 9.7%, trivial
Reilly and Rigby
14 male students
20.9 ±1.5 years)
Soccer match 5 min jogging, 5 min
stretching, 5 min
leg ‘shake down’
by other player
24 and 48 Broad jump Signiﬁcant improvement
by 9 cm in active cool-
down compared to
deterioration by 7 cm
in passive cool-down
at 24 h. Difference
remained signiﬁcant at
by 2.5 cm in active
to deterioration by
1 cm in passive cool-
down at 24 h.
signiﬁcant at 48 h
0.22 s (5%) slower in
group at 24 h and 0.6 s
at 48 h
with 20 s
At 48 h, mean
performance was not
from baseline in active
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1581
Table 2 continued
Study Participants (mean
Fatiguing exercise Active cool-down
difference; ±90% CIs
description of the
probability and effect
Crowther et al.
(27 ±6 years)
14 min jogging at
35% of peak speed
24 and 48 Time on
24 h: 0.4; ±1.4%,
48 h: -0.9; ±1.8%,
24 h: -1.9; ±1.6%,
48 h: -0.6; ±1.4%,
very likely trivial
24 h: -2.2; ±1.7%,
48 h: -1.2; ±1.6%,
Reader et al.  8 male and 1 female
(26.5 ±4.8 years)
as back squat
and push press
15 min supervised
at 1 W/kg body
weight and stroke
frequency of \20/
16 CMJ Session 2–3:
-0.32; ±4.4%, likely
0.92; ±3.5%, possibly
maximum heart rate, CMJ countermovement jump, SJ squat jump, BJ bounce jump, MVIC maximum voluntary isometric contraction,
maximum oxygen uptake, RM repetition maximum
*Percentage differences were calculated by ﬁrst computing a factor difference within the active and passive cool-down group by dividing the post
cool-down mean (e.g., [4 h same-day or next-day performance) by the post fatiguing exercise, but pre-cool-down mean. When no post
fatiguing exercise, but pre-cool-down mean was reported, the pre-fatiguing exercise mean was used to calculate the within group factor
difference. The factor of the active cool-down group was then divided by the factor difference of the passive cool-down group and converted to a
percentage effect, whereby negative and positive values reﬂect worse and better performance of the active cool-down group, respectively. When
an exact p-value or p\0.05 was reported, a statistical spreadsheet  was used to derive 90% conﬁdence intervals of the percentage difference.
Standardizes differences were calculated by ﬁrst computing a standardized difference within the active and passive cool-down group and then
subtracting the passive cool-down standardized difference from the active cool-down standardized difference. The standardized difference for
each group was calculated by subtracting the post fatiguing exercise, but pre-cool-down mean from the post cool-down mean divided by the pre-
cool-down pooled standard deviation from both groups. The standardized difference was corrected for small sample size bias (i.e., Hedges’s g
as outlined by Lakens . When no post fatiguing exercise, but pre-cool-down mean was reported, the pre-fatiguing exercise mean and standard
deviation were used to calculate the standardized difference. Standardized differences were expressed qualitatively using the following
scale: \0.2, trivial; 0.2–0.6, small; 0.6–1.2, moderate; 1.2–2.0 large; [2.0, very large . When an exact pvalue or p\0.05 was reported, the
probability that the (true) difference in performance was better (beneﬁcial), similar (trivial) or worse (harmful) in relation to the smallest
worthwhile change (0.2 multiplied by the pooled between-subject SD for measures of team sports performance and indirect measures of solo
sports performance) was calculated using a statistical spreadsheet . Quantitative probabilities of beneﬁcial, similar or worse performance
were assessed and reported qualitatively using the following scale: 25–75%, possibly; 75–95%, likely; 95–99.5, very likely;[99.5%, most likely.
If the probability of beneﬁt was [25%, but the probability of harm was [0.5%, the true differences were considered unclear (i.e., clinical
magnitude-based inference). In this case, the largest probability for a change was reported to give an indication of the most likely change .
When insufﬁcient data were reported for any of these calculations, these data were requested from the corresponding authors by e-mail
Standardized differences are estimated based on the results reported in Fig. 3 in reference 
The passive cool-down group also performed 5 min of jogging prior to the passive cool-down
1582 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
4 Physiological Effects of an Active Cool-Down
An active cool-down is believed to have many physiolog-
ical beneﬁts compared with a passive cool-down, such as a
faster recovery of heart rate, less muscle soreness, and
more rapid reduction of metabolic by-products . The
evidence for these supposed physiological beneﬁts is
reviewed in the following sections.
4.1 Removal of Metabolic By-Products
High-intensity exercise can lead to an accumulation of
metabolic by-products in muscle such as lactate, which has
traditionally been associated with fatigue . As a result,
the rate at which the lactate concentration is reduced in
blood—and to a lesser extent, muscle tissue—has fre-
quently been used as an objective indicator of recovery
from exercise. A large body of research has shown that a
variety of low- to moderate-intensity active cool-down
protocols are more effective than a passive cool-down for
removing lactate from blood [52–69] and muscle tissue
[58,64]. However, there are some conﬂicting ﬁndings, with
some studies reporting no signiﬁcant difference—and
sometimes even a slower removal of lactate in blood
[44,70] or muscle [66,68]—as a result of an active cool-
down. Regardless, the functional beneﬁt of faster lactate
removal is debatable. For example, several studies found
no signiﬁcant difference between an active cool-down and
a passive cool-down in the blood lactate concentration
measured more than 20 min after exercise [45,67]. Blood
lactate returns to resting levels after high-intensity exercise
within approximately 20–120 min—even without any post-
exercise activity [55,60,71]. Even elite athletes do not
usually perform another training session within 90 min
after the preceding session; faster removal of lactate by an
active cool-down may therefore be largely irrelevant .
A decrease in blood lactate concentration may also not be
an appropriate indicator of recovery following exercise
[51,72]. Among those studies that have reported a faster
removal of blood lactate following an active cool-down,
subsequent exercise performance was not always improved
Although it has traditionally been assumed that lactic
acid production results in metabolic acidosis, it has been
argued that lactate production coincides with cellular aci-
dosis, but is not a direct cause of and even retards meta-
bolic acidosis . It is therefore important to consider the
potential differential effects of an active cool-down on
blood or muscle lactate removal and metabolic acidosis.
An active cool-down results in a faster return of blood
plasma pH and intramuscular pH to resting levels [64,74].
This effect may preserve neuromuscular function by
reducing the effects of exercise-induced acidosis, which
affects the functioning of glycolytic enzymes such as
phosphorylase and phosphofructokinase. However, one
study investigated the effects of an active and passive cool-
down on pH levels up to 16 min after exercise ,
whereas the other study investigated pH levels until 80 min
after exercise . This latter study found no signiﬁcant
effect of an active cool-down on blood pH levels 80 min
after exercise. The relevance of these ﬁndings for improved
performance during a training session or competition later
on the same day (i.e., [4 h) or the next day(s) is therefore
In summary, compared with a passive cool-down, an
active cool-down generally leads to a faster removal of
blood lactate when the intensity of the exercise is low to
moderate. However, the practical relevance of this effect is
questionable. Lactate is not necessarily removed more
rapidly from muscle tissue with an active cool-down.
Finally, an active cool-down leads to a faster recovery of
pH to resting levels.
4.2 Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
An active cool-down increases the blood ﬂow to muscles
and skin [58,75] (see Sect. 4.8). This increase in blood
ﬂow may reduce the accumulation of metabolic by-prod-
ucts and factors associated with muscle soreness (e.g.,
cyclo-oxygenase and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic
factor ) and accelerate muscle repair and remodeling.
Several studies have investigated whether an active cool-
down does indeed attenuate delayed-onset muscle soreness.
It should be noted, though, that some studies
[40,45,48,77,78] used exercise protocols that induce
severe delayed-onset muscle soreness, but are seldom used
in everyday athletic training. Therefore, the ﬁndings of
these studies do not necessarily apply to ‘normal’ training
sessions that induce less delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Most studies among both recreationally active individ-
uals and professional athletes have found no signiﬁcant
effect of an active cool-down on delayed-onset muscle
soreness or tenderness at different times following exercise
(i.e., ranging from immediately after exercise up to 96 h
after exercise) compared with a passive cool-down
[15,25,29,40,41,45,46,48,49,77–80]. For example,
Law and Herbert  compared the effects of an active
cool-down consisting of uphill walking versus a passive
cool-down on delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy
adults following backwards downhill walking on an incline
treadmill (to induce muscle damage). The active cool-
down did not signiﬁcantly reduce delayed-onset muscle
soreness or tenderness at 10 min, 24, 48 or 72 h following
exercise. Interestingly, a study on netball players found that
an active cool-down consisting of low-intensity running
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1583
after a simulated netball match actually resulted in greater
muscle soreness immediately after the active cool-down
compared with a passive cool-down, but there was no
signiﬁcant difference 24 h after the match . The run-
ning cool-down itself may have caused extra muscle
damage, resulting in the higher rating of muscle soreness
immediately after the cool-down. Higher impact weight-
bearing cool-down activities such as running may therefore
exacerbate delayed-onset muscle soreness immediately
after exercise, but more research is required to substantiate
In contrast with the studies above, another study
involving young professional soccer players reported that
the mean subjective rating of muscle soreness was signif-
icantly lower 4–5 h after an active cool-down consisting of
low-intensity exercises such as jogging compared with a
passive cool-down . Interestingly, there was no sig-
niﬁcant difference in muscle soreness compared with a
passive cool-down when these same exercises were per-
formed in water, suggesting that any hydrostatic effects of
water immersion did not reduce muscle soreness. Simi-
larly, a study on world-class BMX riders found that an
active cool-down consisting of 2 95 min of cycling at
70% of the maximum aerobic power reduced muscle
soreness during the next day when compared with a passive
cool-down . It could be argued that these conﬂicting
ﬁndings are related to differences in the physical ﬁtness of
the individuals. For example, the netball players were not
as highly trained as the soccer players and BMX riders. For
non-elite athletes, an active cool-down therefore generally
has no effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness, whereas it
may have a beneﬁcial effect for better trained individuals.
However, other studies among well-trained individuals
have also reported no beneﬁcial effects of active cool-down
on delayed-onset muscle soreness [29,41,80], while a
study among student soccer players reported beneﬁcial
effects of an active cool-down combined with stretching
and a ‘leg shake down’ on muscle soreness . These
ﬁndings suggest that other factors such as the intensity and
duration of the exercise and cool-down, and the timing of
soreness assessment may also inﬂuence the effectiveness.
In summary, these ﬁndings indicate that an active cool-
down is generally not effective for reducing delayed-onset
muscle soreness following exercise.
4.3 Indirect Markers of Muscle Damage
The perception of muscle soreness does not necessary
reﬂect actual muscle damage [81,82]. Therefore, even
though an active cool-down is generally not effective for
reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness, it may have
beneﬁcial effects on other markers of muscle damage.
Studies that have investigated the effects of an active
cool-down on indirect markers of muscle damage from
immediately after exercise up to 84 h after exercise have
reported conﬂicting ﬁndings. Two studies observed sig-
niﬁcantly faster recovery of these markers as a result of an
active cool-down [70,83], whereas three other studies
found no signiﬁcant difference [40,45,84]. For example,
Gill et al.  reported a signiﬁcantly faster recovery of
creatine kinase activity in interstitial ﬂuid in elite rugby
players between 1 and 4 days after a rugby match com-
bined with a cycling-based active cool-down compared
with a passive cool-down. By contrast, a study comparing
an aqua-cycling active cool-down and a passive cool-down
in sport students found no signiﬁcant difference in serum
creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase activity, or
myoglobin concentrations at 4, 24, 48, or 72 h after exer-
cise . These conﬂicting ﬁndings may be related to
differences in the severity of muscle damage induced by
exercise, the individual markers of muscle damage, and the
type of cool-down protocol. It should be noted that fre-
quently used indirect markers of muscle damage (e.g.,
creatine kinase activity) may not accurately reﬂect actual
muscle damage [85–88]. Malm et al.  suggested that
serum creatine kinase activity is more related to muscle
adaptation than to muscle damage. Therefore, it is debat-
able whether a faster recovery of these indirect markers
accurately reﬂects enhanced recovery.
Measures of strength and power are also frequently used
as indirect markers of muscle damage. A study on
untrained females found no signiﬁcant effect of an active
cool-down consisting of upper body ergometry on the
recovery of the MVIC and peak torque 24 h after eccentric
exercise of the elbow ﬂexors . Similar results were
found in other studies on sport science students ,
physically active men , and healthy men . How-
ever, most studies usually reported a slightly (non-signiﬁ-
cant) better recovery compared with the passive cool-down
group (Table 2).
In summary, there are conﬂicting ﬁndings with regard to
the effects of an active cool-down on indirect markers of
muscle damage, with most studies reporting no signiﬁcant
beneﬁcial effect of an active cool-down. Moreover, the
relation of some of these markers with actual muscle
damage is questionable—that is, a faster recovery of these
markers does not necessarily correspond to a faster
reduction in actual muscle damage.
4.4 Neuromuscular Function and Contractile
High-intensity exercise can induce central and peripheral
fatigue, which may impair exercise performance during
subsequent training or competition. Compared with a
1584 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
passive cool-down, Lattier et al.  did not ﬁnd a sig-
niﬁcant effect of an active cool-down consisting of 20 min
of running on the recovery of neuromuscular function (e.g.,
central activation, twitch mechanical, and M-wave char-
acteristics) up to 65 min after high-intensity exercise.
Similarly, a study on professional soccer players found no
signiﬁcant effect of an active cool-down consisting of
combined low-intensity running and static stretching on
muscular contractile properties such as biceps femoris
contraction time and maximal radial displacement time (as
measured by tensiomyography) 24 h after exercise .
Finally, an active cool-down consisting of aqua exercises
also did not signiﬁcantly affect whole-body reaction time,
muscle contraction time or nerve reaction time in long-
distance runners 24 h after exercise .
In summary, these ﬁndings indicate that an active cool-
down does not signiﬁcantly affect the recovery of neuro-
muscular function or contractile properties. However, in all
studies there were generally small but non-signiﬁcant
positive effects of the active cool-down recovery on the
recovery of neuromuscular function and contractile
4.5 Stiffness and Range of Motion
Damage to musculotendinous tissue as a result of exer-
cise—speciﬁcally eccentric exercise—can increase the
stiffness of the musculotendinous unit. This stiffness can
persist for several days following exercise . The
increased passive musculotendinous stiffness can reduce
the range of motion during subsequent training or compe-
tition , and this may impair performance. Researchers
and trainers frequently use perceived ﬂexibility and mea-
sures of ﬂexibility such as the sit-and-reach test to assess
recovery . Another common belief for using an active
cool-down is that it attenuates the decrease in range of
motion  and increase in musculotendinous stiffness
The scientiﬁc evidence available suggests that an active
cool-down does not signiﬁcantly attenuate the decrease in
range of motion and perceived physical ﬂexibility, or
attenuate the increase in musculotendinous stiffness up to
72 h after exercise [25,40,41,45,50,67,92]. Takahashi
et al.  found that an active cool-down consisting of
30 min of water exercises did not signiﬁcantly affect sit-
and-reach score, ankle range of motion, stride length, or
calf and thigh musculotendinous stiffness measured 1 day
after 3 95 min of downhill running. Similarly, a study
among professional soccer players found no signiﬁcant
effect of an active cool-down consisting of 12 min sub-
maximal running combined with 8 min of static stretching
on lower limb ﬂexibility 24 h after a standardized training
program (consisting of 15 min of maximal intensity
intermittent exercises and a 30 min of speciﬁc aerobic
endurance drill) .
In summary, these ﬁndings indicate that an active cool-
down does not attenuate the decrease in range of motion or
the increase in musculotendinous stiffness following
4.6 Muscle Glycogen Resynthesis
High-intensity exercise can deplete muscle glycogen stor-
age, and this can impair subsequent high-intensity exercise
performance up to 24 h post-exercise . Strategies that
enhance the resynthesis of glycogen may therefore atten-
uate the decrease in performance and even enhance per-
formance. Athletes often consume carbohydrates after
exercise. An active cool-down may theoretically enhance
glycogen resynthesis, because an increased blood ﬂow and
elevated muscle temperature could increase glucose
delivery to muscle tissue , while muscle contraction
may increase the expression of the GLUT-4 glucose
transporter. However, studies have found either no signif-
icant difference in the rate of glycogen resynthesis between
an active cool-down and passive cool-down [58,66,95], or
less glycogen resynthesis during an active cool-down
[64,68,96–98]. During the active cool-down, these studies
provided no carbohydrate [58,64,66,68,95], less carbo-
hydrate , or more carbohydrate [97,98] than what is
recommended (1.2 g/kg/h ) for restoring muscle
glycogen. Therefore, these ﬁndings suggest that an active
cool-down may interfere with muscle glycogen resynthesis,
particularly within type I muscle ﬁbers , because these
ﬁbers are preferentially recruited during a low- to moder-
ate-intensity active cool-down. Although this effect may be
beneﬁcial to enhance cellular responses and adaptation
during a subsequent low- to moderate- intensity training
(i.e., ‘train low’ ), it may also decrease performance
during high-intensity training or competition. It should be
noted that several studies applied active cool-downs for a
duration that is rarely used in daily practice (e.g., 45 min
up to 4 h) [64,66,96–98]. For example, Kuipers et al.
compared glycogen resynthesis between a passive cool-
down and an active cool-down in which participants cycled
for 2.5 h at 40% of their maximum workload , or 3 h at
40% of their maximum workload [64,66,96,98]. In
contrast, studies that reported no signiﬁcant (but also
lower) difference in the rate of glycogen resynthesis
between an active cool-down and passive cool-down usu-
ally applied shorter active cool-down durations (i.e., 10, 15,
and 45 min [58,66,95]), suggesting that shorter active
cool downs interfere less with glycogen resynthesis.
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1585
4.7 Recovery of the Immune System
During the recovery period from high-intensity or pro-
longed exercise, there can be a temporary depression of the
immune system (also referred to as an ‘open window’)
during which microbial agents such as viruses have an
increased chance to cause an infection or illness . A
faster recovery of the immune system following exercise
can potentially reduce the chance of upper respiratory ill-
nesses. A small number of studies have investigated the
effects of an active cool-down on the recovery of the
immune system up to 72 h after exercise.
Wigernaes et al. [70,102] found that an active cool-
down largely prevented the fall in white blood cell count
immediately after exercise compared with a passive cool-
down. However, there was no signiﬁcant difference
120 min after the exercise . Similarly, two other
studies reported no signiﬁcant difference between an active
cool-down and passive cool-down on immune system
markers 24 h after a soccer  and rugby match .
In summary, these ﬁndings suggest that an active cool-
down may partially prevent the depression of circulating
immune cell counts immediately after exercise, but this
effect is probably negligible [2 h after exercise. No
studies have investigated the effects of regular active cool-
downs, so it remains unknown whether this leads to fewer
4.8 Cardiovascular and Respiratory Variables
The cardiovascular and respiratory systems are highly
active during exercise to supply the exercising muscles
with blood and oxygen. These systems do not immediately
return to resting levels after exercise, but remain activated
for a considerable amount of time. For example, heart rate
remains slightly elevated above resting heart rate for a
relatively long time after exercise, with the exact period
dependent on the intensity and duration of the exercise
. An active cool-down is frequently performed in an
attempt to restore normal activity of these systems after
In a comparison between a passive cool-down and two
cycling-based active cool-down protocols, Takahashi and
Miyamoto  found that heart rate initially recovered in
a nearly identical way, but 10 min after the exercise (3 min
after the active cool-down), heart rate was signiﬁcantly
lower for the active cool-down interventions. A later study
conﬁrmed these ﬁndings, and suggested that this response
to active cool-down reﬂected a faster restoration of vagal
and sympathetic tone . In one additional subject, it
was shown that the heart rate following a passive cool-
down was still higher 30 min after exercise than the resting
heart rate, whereas it had returned to resting levels after the
active cool-down . By contrast, other studies found a
slower heart rate recovery during an active cool-down
compared with a passive cool-down. Nevertheless, these
studies only monitored the heart rate for 60 s or
5 min [107,108] after exercise, and the practical relevance
of these ﬁndings with regard to ‘training recovery’ is
An active cool-down has also been reported to lead to a
faster recovery of respiratory variables such as minute
expiratory ventilation, although this primarily occurred
during the initial 20 s of the cool-down . Other studies
found a lower breathing frequency (non-signiﬁcant) after
an active cool-down  and a faster recovery of oxygen
debt during an active cool-down .
Finally, the period right after exercise can be considered
as a vulnerable period during which individuals can
experience post-exercise syncope, with symptoms such as
lightheadedness, tunnel vision, and blurred vision . In
severe circumstances, individuals may lose consciousness
completely during this post-exercise period. It has been
suggested that an active cool-down may prevent post-ex-
ercise syncope and cardiovascular complications by: (1)
increasing blood ﬂow to the heart and brain due to the
contractions of the muscles [108,110], (2) decreasing
blood pooling in the lower extremities , and (3) the-
oretically preventing an increase in the partial pressure of
arterial carbon dioxide . Indeed, an active cool-down
has been reported to result in a higher blood ﬂow to the legs
[58,104] and forearm , but whether these effects pre-
vent post-exercise syncope and cardiovascular complica-
tions remains unknown.
In summary, these ﬁndings suggest that an active cool-
down may result in a faster recovery of the cardiovascular
and respiratory system after exercise. However, it is
unknown whether this also leads to a reduction in the
incidence of post-exercise syncope and cardiovascular
4.9 Sweat Rate and Thermoregulation
Similar to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems,
muscle and core temperature can remain elevated above
resting levels up to 90 min after exercise. Sweat rate is
higher after exercise to reduce the core temperature to
resting levels . Although an active cool-down on a
stationary bike results in a higher sweat rate compared with
a passive cool-down, core temperature is not lower even
after 30 min of active cool-down [65,75,113–116].
Therefore, an active cool-down performed on a stationary
bike does not result in a faster recovery of core temperature
compared to a passive cool-down. Whether an active cool-
down performed while moving (e.g., running outside dur-
ing which sweat may evaporate faster compared with
1586 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
stationary biking) results in a faster recovery of core tem-
perature compared with a passive cool-down requires fur-
4.10 Hormone Concentrations
It has been proposed that the rate at which hormone con-
centrations return to resting levels can be used to charac-
terize physiological stress  and psychological recovery
. The ﬁndings of four studies suggest that an active
cool-down does not facilitate the recovery of hormone
concentrations compared with a passive cool-down
[29,43,64,102]. A study on well-trained futsal players, for
example, found no signiﬁcant effect of an active cool-down
on hormone concentrations measured 5 h after a futsal
game or measured the next morning . An active cool-
down consisting of uphill treadmill running actually
resulted in a slower acute restoration of plasma adrenaline,
noradrenaline and cortisol concentrations compared with a
passive cool-down . However, from 30 min post-ex-
ercise onwards, there were no signiﬁcant differences in the
hormone concentrations. The relevance of this ﬁnding is
therefore questionable. A later study reported similar
ﬁndings, with the hormonal concentrations returning more
slowly to resting levels compared with a passive cool-
down, but there was no signiﬁcant difference beyond
30 min post-exercise . Finally, Taipale et al. 
reported that an active cool-down consisting of 10 910
repetitions of leg press at 30% of the 1 repetition maximum
did not result in signiﬁcant between-group differences for
several hormonal concentrations during the next morning.
In summary, these ﬁndings suggest that an active cool-
down may result in a slower recovery of hormone con-
centrations immediately after exercise, but does not sig-
niﬁcantly affect the recovery of hormonal concentrations
beyond 30 min post-exercise compared with a passive
cool-down. In support of this, plasma concentrations for
several hormones have been reported to return to resting
levels within 60–120 min post-exercise even with a passive
4.11 Mood State, Self-Perception, and Sleep
Most research has investigated the physiological effects of
an active cool-down and a passive cool-down, yet psy-
chological effects are intimately linked to the physiological
effects, and are also of major importance for performance.
A recent systematic review even proposed that subjective
measures of well-being better reﬂect training loads than do
objective measures . Therefore, the psychological
effects of an active cool-down are also important to con-
sider in relation to recovery.
Most studies have not reported any signiﬁcant effect of
an active cool-down on measures of psychological recov-
ery such as the score on the Proﬁle of Mood States (POMS)
or rest-Q sport questionnaire. Nevertheless, the participants
usually perceived an active cool-down as more beneﬁcial
than a passive cool-down [15,25,29,30,39,41,46,
47,67,119]. For example, a study among well-trained
futsal players reported that the players perceived the active
cool-down consisting of low-intensity exercises on land
and especially the active cool-down consisting of water-
based exercises as more beneﬁcial than a passive cool-
down—even though there was no signiﬁcant effect on the
recovery-stress state and the amount of sleep . Another
study among military men also did not demonstrate any
signiﬁcant effect of an active cool-down consisting of
water exercises on sleep, rest-recovery score or rating of
perceived exertion during submaximal exercise after a 6-h
rest period . However, the participants in this study did
rate the water-based active cool-down as more beneﬁcial
than the passive cool-down. Interestingly, a study on sport
students found no signiﬁcant difference between a passive
cool-down and an aqua-cycling active cool-down for per-
ceived physical state 4, 24, 48, or 72 h after performing
300 countermovement jumps, but the perceived physical
ﬁtness and energy were slightly lower 24 h after the active
cool-down . Similarly, a study on recreational netball
players reported that rating of perceived exertion was sig-
niﬁcantly higher following a 15-min running-based active
cool-down compared with a passive cool-down . These
ﬁndings possibly reﬂect the greater energy expenditure
associated with an active cool-down versus a passive cool-
down. By contrast, a study among 15 rugby players found
that the ‘tension’ score on the POMS questionnaire was
signiﬁcantly lower two days after a rugby match in the
group that performed a 1-h active cool-down once a day
compared with another group that performed a passive
cool-down . However, there was no signiﬁcant effect
on any of the other POMS scores, and no signiﬁcant dif-
ference on the day after the match, when only one active
cool-down session was performed. These ﬁndings imply
that an active cool-down can potentially interfere with
psychological recovery in untrained or recreationally
trained individuals, whereas it likely has no (or a slight)
positive effect on psychological recovery in better trained
individuals. In support of this, even though most individ-
uals perceive an active cool-down as more beneﬁcial, some
(recreationally active) individuals may perceive it as ‘more
exercise’ or increasing stiffness . This may explain
why elite rugby players rated an active cool-down as more
effective than amateur rugby players in a recent survey .
In summary, an active cool-down generally does not
substantially inﬂuence measures of psychological recovery
after exercise, but most individuals nevertheless perceive
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1587
an active cool-down as more beneﬁcial than a passive cool-
down. Reasons reported for doing an active cool-down
include relaxation, socializing and time to reﬂect on the
training or match . Not all of these aspects are speciﬁ-
cally assessed with the POMS and rest-Q. Therefore, it is
debatable whether questionnaires such as the POMS and
rest-Q sport do adequately assess psychological recovery.
However, the perceived beneﬁt could also reﬂect a placebo
effect, whereby individuals believe that the active cool-
down is more beneﬁcial than a passive cool-down due to
the popularity in society and its proposed beneﬁts. Cook
and Beaven  for example found a correlation between
the perception of the effectiveness of a recovery modality
and subsequent performance that was of similar magnitude
to the correlation observed between physiological recovery
and performance, suggesting that the perception of a
recovery modality can also have a major inﬂuence on its
4.12 Long-Term Effects of an Active Cool-Down
All studies discussed so far have investigated the acute or
short-term (\1 week) effects of an active cool-down and a
passive cool-down. In the following two sections we dis-
cuss the long-term effects of an active cool-down on
injuries and the adaptive response.
4.13 Injury Prevention
An active cool-down can theoretically reduce the risk of
injuries during a subsequent training session, because a
better recovery may result in less neuromuscular fatigue
(see small, non-signiﬁcant positive effects in Sect. 4.4) and
thereby decrease injury risk. Only a few studies have
investigated the effects of an active cool-down on injuries,
and this has usually been investigated in combination with
stretching and a warm-up. In three prospective cohort
studies on runners, regular use of a cool-down did not
signiﬁcantly reduce the incidence of running injuries
[120–122]. In another prospective study on runners, a
health education intervention program consisting of a
warm-up, cool-down, and stretching exercises also did not
signiﬁcantly reduce the incidence of running injuries .
However, a potential confounder in this study was that
most participants in the control group also already per-
formed these practices of their own volition. Finally, per-
forming a regular cool-down after exercise was also not
signiﬁcantly associated with a reduction in injuries among
triathletes  or with ﬁnishing a marathon versus not
ﬁnishing a marathon in recreational runners . In
contrast with the evidence from the studies above, a study
on dance aerobics instructors found a signiﬁcant associa-
tion between the duration of the cool-down and the number
of injuries. Speciﬁcally, the group performing a 15-min
cool-down showed a lower injury rate than the 5- and
10-min cool-down groups , but no control group was
included for comparison. Therefore, a cool-down generally
does not affect injury rates, although more research is
required to investigate the effects of the type of cool-down,
its duration, and the type of sport.
4.14 Long-Term Adaptive Response
Exercise stimulates the release of various biochemical
messengers that activate signaling pathways, which in turn
regulate molecular gene expression that elicits an adaptive
response . Some recovery interventions such as
antioxidant supplementation, nonsteroidal anti-inﬂamma-
tory drugs, and cold-water immersion can inﬂuence sig-
naling pathways, thereby attenuating the long-term
adaptive response to exercise [100,127,128]. For example,
several studies have shown that cold-water immersion after
each training session reduces blood ﬂow and inﬂuences
signaling pathways, thereby leading to reduced gains in
muscular strength and endurance compared to an active
cool-down or passive cool-down [129–133]. Similarly,
chronic intake of some antioxidants can also have a
harmful effect on mitochondrial biogenesis and perfor-
mance [100,127,134]. Preliminary evidence suggests that
an active cool-down consisting of 15 min moderate-inten-
sity jogging does not attenuate the long-term adaptive
response in well-trained intermittent sport athletes .
Interestingly, the group that regularly performed an active-
cool down after training even obtained a higher anaerobic
lactate threshold after 4 weeks of training compared with
the passive cool-down group. This could be related to the
extra training volume completed during an active cool-
down. However, conﬂicting evidence for the attenuating
effects of other recovery modalities such as cold-water
immersion has been reported , and more research
investigating the effects of an active cool-down on the
long-term adaptive response with other exercise modalities
(e.g., following strength training and using swimming or
cycling during the active cool-down) and populations (e.g.,
untrained individuals, elderly) is therefore required.
5 Combination with Other Recovery Interventions
This review has focused on the effects of an active cool-
down consisting of low-intensity exercises such as cycling
or running on measures of sports performance, psy-
chophysiological recovery, injuries, and the long-term
adaptive response. However, most individuals usually
perform a combination of recovery interventions, and this
combination may have different effects than an active cool-
1588 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
down in isolation. Two recovery interventions that are
frequently performed in combination with an active cool-
down are stretching and, more recently, foam rolling. The
effects of these cool-down interventions are brieﬂy dis-
cussed in the following sections.
5.1 Static Stretching
Stretching—especially static stretching—is frequently
incorporated in an (active) cool-down [15,28,29,42]
(Table 2). For example, a study among recreational mara-
thon runners reported that 64% of the runners performed
stretching after training . Another survey on elite
adolescent athletes found that 23% of the Asian and 68% of
the UK athletes used stretching after a training session .
Finally, a survey among collegiate athletic trainers in the
USA found that 61% recommended static stretching to be
included as a recovery method after exercise . Surveys
among coaches from other sports report similar results
Stretching is usually performed to reduce muscle sore-
ness and increase range of motion. Many practitioners also
believe that stretching reduces the risk of injuries and
improves performance [1,3–5]. Contrary to common
belief, however, static stretching performed either before or
after exercise does not reduce muscle soreness [41,138].
Although stretching can reduce muscle stiffness (when
performed as constant-torque stretching ) and increase
the range of motion , these effects are also not always
in the athlete’s interest. Long-distance runners with a better
running economy are (for example) actually less ﬂexible,
and increasing ﬂexibility can potentially negatively affect
running economy [72,140]. Finally, although static
stretching may have some effects on strain injuries ,
an increasing body of research suggests that it has little to
no effect on the prevention of degenerative injuries .
Therefore, although stretching is historically a widely
practiced cool-down activity, it may not necessarily aid
recovery from exercise.
5.2 Foam Rolling
Foam rolling has more recently also been incorporated in
many cool-downs, although to a lesser extent than
stretching. A small proportion (4%) of Asian and moderate
proportion (38%) of UK elite adolescent athletes report
using foam rolling after training . Foam rolling is
frequently performed to reduce muscle soreness and to
attenuate the effects of exercise on the reduced range of
motion. Indeed, foam rolling performed after exercise has
been found to reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness,
increase range of motion, and enhance sports performance
during the next day [142,143]. For example, MacDonald
et al.  found that the foam rolling group demonstrated
less muscle soreness and better dynamic (but not passive)
range of motion of the hamstrings and vertical jump per-
formance. However, foam rolling also reduced evoked
contractile properties during the next day. Similarly, Rey
and co-workers  reported that 20 min of foam rolling
following a soccer practice improved agility performance,
the perception of recovery and reduced muscle soreness in
professional soccer players. However, foam rolling did not
signiﬁcantly improve sit-and-reach performance or 5- and
10-m sprint performance. Therefore, foam rolling may
facilitate recovery from exercise, but more research is
Blood lactate >18 1 1
Muscle tissue lactate 2 1 1
Delayed onset muscle soreness 2 14
Indirect markers of muscle damage 2 6
Neuromuscular function and contractile properties 3
Stiffness and range of motion 7
Muscle glycogen resynthesis 3 5
Immune system 2 2
Cardiovascular and respiratory system 5 2 2
Sweat rate and thermoregulation 6
Hormone concentrations 4
Mood state, self-perception and sleep 12 1
Same day performance 4
Next day performance 14
Injury prevention 1 6
Adaptive response 1
Fig. 2 Evidence heatmap
showing the effects of an active
cool-down on markers of
sports performance, and long-
term effects. Numbers represent
the number of studies
demonstrating a signiﬁcant
beneﬁt (green), no signiﬁcant
difference or an inconclusive
effect (blue), or signiﬁcant harm
(red) of an active cool-down on
the variable of interest
compared to a passive cool-
Cool-Down after Exercise? 1589
6 Conclusions and Practical Applications
Although there are many proposed beneﬁts of an active
cool-down compared with a passive cool-down (Fig. 1),
this review shows that only a few of these beneﬁts are
supported by research (Fig. 2). Most importantly, we have
provided evidence that an active cool-down generally does
not improve and may even negatively affect performance
later during the same day when the time between succes-
sive training sessions or competitions is [4 h. Similarly,
an active cool-down has likely no substantial effects on
next-day(s) sports performance, but can potentially
enhance next-day(s) performance in some individuals
(Table 2). With regard to the long-term effects, a cool-
down does likely not prevent injuries, and preliminary
evidence suggests that an active cool-down after every
training sessions does not attenuate and may even enhance
the long-term adaptive response.
Several psychophysiological mechanisms are believed
to underlie the potential beneﬁcial effects of an active cool-
down. This review shows that an active cool-down does
generally lead to a faster removal of lactate in blood, but
the practical relevance of this ﬁndings is questionable,
especially because lactate is not necessarily removed faster
from muscle tissue and because lactate may not be the
cause of metabolic acidosis. Furthermore, an active cool-
down can partially prevent the depression of circulating
immune cells counts after exercise. However, it is
unknown whether this also leads to fewer infections and
illnesses. An active cool-down can also result in a faster
recovery of the cardiovascular and respiratory system after
exercise, but it remains unknown whether this leads to a
reduction in the number of post-exercise syncopes and
cardiovascular complications. In contrast, an active cool-
down generally does not signiﬁcantly reduce delayed-onset
muscle soreness or improve the recovery of indirect
markers of muscle damage. It also does not signiﬁcantly
alter the recovery of the neuromuscular and contractile
properties, improve range of motion, or attenuate muscu-
lotendinous stiffness following exercise, and may even
interfere with glycogen resynthesis. Furthermore, an active
cool-down does generally not signiﬁcantly facilitate the
recovery of hormonal concentrations, and it also does not
affect measures of psychophysiological recovery. How-
ever, most individuals nevertheless perceive an active cool-
down as more beneﬁcial than a passive cool-down. The
effectiveness of an active cool-down may differ depending
on the individual preferences and beliefs; recovery inter-
ventions should therefore be individualized [28,30]. Some
athletes may beneﬁt more from an active cool-down,
whereas others may prefer to perform no cool-down at all.
The mode, intensity, and duration of a cool-down and
activity preceding the cool-down will likely inﬂuence the
effectiveness of the cool-down on recovery and these
effects may also differ between individuals. It is therefore
difﬁcult to recommend one optimal active cool-down
protocol for all individuals in all situations. Some general
guidelines can, however, be provided. An active cool-down
should: (1) involve dynamic activities performed at a low
to moderate metabolic intensity to increase blood ﬂow, but
prevent development of substantial additional fatigue; (2)
involve low to moderate mechanical impact to prevent the
development of (additional) muscular damage and delayed-
onset muscle soreness; (3) be shorter than approximately
30 min to prevent substantial interference with glycogen
resynthesis; and (4) involve exercise that is preferred by the
individual athlete. Some evidence also suggests that an
active cool-down should involve the same muscles as used
during the preceding activity .
More research is required to investigate the differences
between different active cool-down interventions (e.g.,
land-based vs. water-based active cool-downs), the effects
of different exercise protocols that precede the cool-down,
and the effect of active cool-downs in various populations
(e.g., elderly). It is also important to consider that most
studies have investigated the effects on untrained or
recreationally trained individuals, because the detrimental
effects of training are easier to induce (to show greater
effects of recovery interventions). These ﬁndings may not
necessarily transfer to better trained athletes. Finally, sev-
eral studies have used protocols that are rarely used in daily
practice and more research is required on practical active
cool-downs and the effects of active cool-downs on
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank Bjo
from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences for his com-
ments on a preliminary version of this manuscript, Will Hopkins from
Victoria University for his suggestions on the statistical analysis of
the data in Table 2, and Bianca Cattelini contracted through the
Queensland Academy of Sport for her assistance with the infographic.
Author contributions BVH conceived the study and wrote the ﬁrst
draft of the manuscript. JMP provided suggestions, revisions, and
Compliance with ethical standards
Conﬂicts of interest Bas Van Hooren and Jonathan Peake declare
that they have no conﬂicts of interest.
Funding The Open Access fee was paid by Maastricht University.
No other funding was received for this manuscript.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give
1590 B. Hooren, J. M. Peake
appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a
link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were
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