1. A cool down jog after running will not reduce muscle soreness, prevent injury, or reduce muscle damage.
2. General stretching post run will not reduce muscle soreness, prevent injury, or reduce muscle damage.
3. Foam rolling will minimally reduce muscle soreness 24 and 48 hours after exercise.
As you round the corner to your house, you decide to end your run on a high note by sprinting it in to the finish. 10 houses left, 9 houses left, your mouth salivates for water. 8 houses left, 7 houses left, your quads ramp up in their complaints. 6 houses left, 5 houses left, your loud breathing now drowns out the rest of your thoughts. 4, 3, 2, 1 and you’ve made it home. After a complete 15 seconds of hand braced on your thighs, you can finally stand up and take a few steps. A fresh glass of water and shower are calling your name and you waste no time in responding. That memory of jogging and stretching after your high school track workouts is ignored while you replenish your thirst. The foam roller taking up space in your basement continues to collect dust while you turn on your shower. You finished your run - you’re done, right?
Yes and no.
Do you need to do a cool down jog after your run?
No, actually. The little evidence that we do have on performing a cool down jog shows that they do not reduce muscle soreness, prevent injuries, or reduce muscle damage. Active cool down runs, therefore, have relatively no effect on your recovery.
So why did we think that they did?
The preconceived notion that active cool downs help reduce muscle soreness is based on the concept that lactic acid (a naturally occurring byproduct from cell energy production without using oxygen) causes muscle soreness. The thought process was that an active recovery will clear out the lactic acid buildup that accumulates in our muscle tissue after a tough workout. What new research is showing us is that lactic acid does not actually cause muscle soreness. (Look out for my upcoming novel where we learn that our sore muscle villain, Lactic Acidinator, has turned out to secretly be a hero, Lactastic, delivering energy to our muscles when it is needed quickly!) Therefore, trying to gently pump lactic acid out of the muscles with an active recovery does nothing to prevent muscle soreness. Instead, the real culprit is thought to be microscopic tears resulting in muscle damage.
Will an active cool down reduce muscle damage?
Unfortunately, no. If a high intensity run is what damages your muscles in the first place, a less intense version of the same mode of exercise is not going to reverse the process. If you are driving your car down a highway and realize that you are going the wrong way, continuing to drive in the same direction at a slower speed is not going to turn your car around.
So it also won’t prevent injury?
Correct. The exercise community was previously under the impression that an active cool down prevents injury based on the concept that an active cool down expedites recovery. As we have now determined that a cool down does not improve recovery, we have no mechanism by which it can prevent injury. This study expertly demonstrates that after a 16 week program that instructed half of the 421 recreational running males to properly warm up, cool down, and stretch, the only significant change was the knowledge gained in the intervention group. There was no difference in injury rate between those who did nothing versus those who warmed up, cooled down, and stretched.
If you like to cool down, especially after a hard run, there’s no need to alter your routine as a cool down certainly won’t do any harm. If, however, you are tired of forcing yourself to slog through a slow mile after a tough workout, then you now have permission from the exercise research community to stop trying.
Do we need to stretch after a run?
While this statement is entirely true, it does not mean that there isn’t a role for static stretching after a run. If a healthcare provider has identified that you have a short or stiff muscle or joint, then by all means, stretch statically after a run. Static stretching is an effective means for increasing range of motion and is best to be performed after exercise. Unlike the negative consequences that have been shown with static stretching prior to exercise, static stretching consistently after each run will not hurt your overall performance.
So is there a simple way to enhance muscle recovery?
Drum roll please…yes! Foam rolling! This device, actually, I believe the technical term is “smooshing” device, can actually help reduce soreness and decrease post workout loss of strength. Sound too good to be true? Let’s dive in!
Foam rolling to reduce soreness and increase strength after a workout.
Muscle soreness, specifically the doom of DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) that peaks 24-48 hours after intense or relatively new exercise is a huge bummer for athletes who exercise daily. Its characteristics of decreased muscle strength and endurance, decreased range of motion, and increased muscular stiffness often lead to subpar workouts in the days to follow. While there is no magic bullet to mitigate DOMS, foam rolling has been shown to decrease the intensity of the pain. In a very recent study, 80 young active males were made to exercise at a DOMS inducing intensity. They were then split into two groups, one that recovered passively and one that performed 20 min of foam rolling right after exercise, 24 hours after exercise, and 48 hours after exercise. Participants in the foam rolling group experienced an 11.4% decrease in pain 24 hours after the exercise and a 16.5% decrease in pain 48 hours after the exercise. They also maintained their strength by 13% at the 24 hour mark and 12% at 48 hours post exercise. Many other studies, including this one, this one, oh and this one agree that foam rolling for 20 minutes can help with reducing soreness after a workout.
Why does foam rolling help?
Great question! The scientific community isn’t quite sure. Some hypotheses for pain reduction include an increase in circulation that clears out debris while bringing in fresh nutrients and a reduction of stiffness in the surrounding tissue. Foam rolling can potentially assist with muscular strength deficits that occur post workout through quieting the pain receptors in the muscle, thereby increasing the other neural connections that are responsible for improved muscular recruitment. Another possible mechanism is that foam rolling decreases muscular stiffness which can improve the musculotendinous unit’s ability to store energy during future exercise. No matter which way it works, research demonstrates that it is a quick and effective tool for enhancing recovery after a tough run.
If you have your post run routine set and it includes a cool down jog and some static stretching, there is no reason to change. If, however, you are looking for a simple strategy to reduce the soreness you experience after a tough run, then grab a foam roller and get rolling!
Have any specific questions about your post run routine? Then contact us here and we’ll be more than happy to help you out.