Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gina Kolata And The Art Of Saying Nothing


Today the NY Times ran an article deconstructing the time-honored exercise cool-down, finally deeming it unnecessary for most of us. The problem with the article, however, was that its deconstruction forgot to mention the primary reason most fitness experts include a cool-down: to speed up the recovery process.

Is the Exercise Cool-Down Really Necessary?

We’ve seen this kind of misguided analysis before. From the same author, in fact. In 2007 Kolata made the best seller list with a book claiming that our genes were making us fat. Never mind the right-in-front-of-our-eyes fact that there’s no way genetics could explain the massive increase in body fat percentage over one generation, Kolata’s son trained for a marathon and only lost 3 pounds. OMG, there just has to be a money-making hook in that story!

In the same vein, she’s now demystified the reason behind the cool-down, and deemed it useless. Except she hasn’t because she didn’t bother identifying that actual reason.

In what she does present, she still refutes herself by showing some science that a cool-down can be medically dangerous to avoid after intense exercise.

“If you are well trained, your heart rate is slow already, and it slows down even faster with exercise,” he (Dr. Paul Thompson) said. “Also, there are bigger veins with a large capacity to pool blood in your legs.”

So, well, most of us aren’t well trained. But what if we are? Most of us who begin any exercise program have a goal of being well trained at some point and then, well okay, we need to cool down.

But she means the rest of us. For all of the lazy, deconditioned masses, she states, “… it’s not clear what the cool-down is supposed to do. Some say it alleviates muscle soreness. Others say it prevents muscle tightness or relieves strain on the heart.”

“Ooo, ooo,” I say, raising my hand from the back of the room. “I know why we cool down after a workout!”

But, apparently, she decided that interviewing someone who might know the answer, like a trainer, would be counterproductive to her main point. So no one asked me, nor any trainer, or if she did she didn’t like what they had to say and omitted it. So I’ll answer her anyway and maybe someone will tell her.

The reason we cool down is to lengthen muscles that have been contracted during the workout. I mean, there’s the heart/blood pooling thing to avoid to but, as one of her cited experts stated, most of us do this anyway by showing, changing clothes, etc. But there’s a passel of good science showing the benefit of post-exercise stretching leading to increased performance. Apparently, it just didn’t fit into her sales pitch.

13 comments:

bob banks said...

"Fifteen minutes to warm up! Does a lion warm up when he's hungry? 'Uh-oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.' No! He just goes out and eats the sucker. You gotta get the blood circulating, but shit, does the lion cool down? No, he eats the sucker and goes to sleep. And that," he concluded, folding his arms into a variation of the pose, "is the truth."

- Jack Lalanne

Sam said...

Did a sub-threshold workout last weekend with Dustin. My HR was anywhere from 155-175 for 3x12 min. intervals. WHY WOULD I POSSIBLY NEED TO COOL DOWN AFTER THAT?

Jason said...

"Hey Steve, I'm intrigued by this topic. From what I've recently read, some research suggests that stretching doesn't reduce injury nor reduce soreness. "Conclusions: Stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness. Stretching before exercising does not seem to confer a practically useful reduction in the risk of injury, but the generality of this finding needs testing. Insufficient research has been done with which to determine the effects of stretching on sporting performance."

Reed said...

"Well since I learned last month that I don't need to exercise it seems obvious that I don't need to cool down. Duh!"

Max Nanao said...

Whenever I read a bad science article in the NYT, I look back at the byline and it's usually Gina Kolata.

Anonymous said...

People sitting at a desk or couch before and after their "workouts" probably will benefit from a warm up cool down routine that includes appropriate stretching. For those of us who actually walk or ride to work, spend more time on our feet than on our asses, the warm up begins in the morning. The cool down ends in the evening. You gotta understand who the NYT (which otherwise is the only decent newspaper left in the U.S.) is catering to. Frankly: Americans.

-Josh

Steve Edwards said...

Bob, well, now that you put it that way, the only cool-down I did after an hour of hammering today was to lift my bike onto the car and drive back to the hotel.

Hmm, then again, lions only live about ten years.

Steve Edwards said...

Jason,

I brushed over the topic because my main point was to point out flaws in her journalism. I think I'll turn this subject into an article.

Because of a process called thixotropy, cooling down and stretching post workout is, by far, the most efficient time to do this. So unless you believe that no muscular stretching is ever needed a good case can be made to cool-down.

There are some other reasons as well, which I'll go into in the article.

Anonymous said...

A post workout stretch with a can of Oly makes a lot of sense.

-Josh

Steve Edwards said...

As has been well documented, beer is superior to water for sports recovery.

Steve Edwards said...

In fact, I finished my post ride yoga with a tecate and lime. This seems like a perfect accoutrament to my diet of pinole and chia seeds.

Hassan90X said...

this is a good article! actually I think cooling down can help prevent soreness! I know you might disagree steve but for me it does also it relaxes those muscles I destroyed in the workout! a cooldown with a workout like insanity is a must!!

Steve Edwards said...

Stretching and stabilizer muscle strength is vital for not only injury prevention but max performance because ensuring that your muscles are supple and well as in proper balance in relation to each other frees the prime movers to work as they should. Muscles that are too tight are not "free" to function to their potential. The latter is generally part of the warm-up and cool-down for the conditioned individual. The only time stabilizer strength should be the central focus of a workout is when you're out of muscular balance, and most of us are. But once certain benchmarks are reached in regards to your stabilization unit, you can keep the strength up with a proper warm-up and cool-down.