Open Water: Do I Have To Cool Down?

In a follow up to the previous post on Tuesday, Warm Up, this post is all about cooling down after races. Although getting back in the cold open water is most likely the last thing you want to do after finishing an open water race and being practically dry, your body’s overloaded supply of lactic acid doesn’t care what you want. If you have any hopes of getting back to your normal workout routine in the next two days without too much unnecessary discomfort, you must cool down.

The last thing you likely did in your open water race was a sprint finish, and then probably some running if it was a land exit. For most of us, this is the most difficult part of the race, and our bodies are already revolting when we turn on the legs and increase the turnover. This is big time lactic acid production mode for our bodies. Lactic acid is what causes that burning and aching in our muscles. Putting our bodies through the ringer leads to soreness and tightness in the muscles for the next one to three days, and may even contribute to waking up the next day feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck.

Cooling down – along with nutrition (immediate refueling) and a few other things – plays a major role in how long it takes your body to return to a normal state of being. If you have another race that day or the next, cooling down should not be an option. Get in for a minimum of 20 minutes. If you don’t compete again, but need to get back to training, and know you’ll get far more out of training if you feel somewhat decent, strongly consider cooling down in the water. Even if you are taking the next week off, cooling down will at least help your body feel less achy.

Swimming for about 20 minutes as close to the end of the race is ideal. If you’re waiting around for the awards ceremony, this is an easy way to kill some time. If you have to rush off, try to get in a pool as soon as you can. If there is absolutely no way you can return to the water, at the bare minimum, do some dynamic stretching (arm swings), a few low intensity reps with your Dryland Cord, and follow it up with easy static stretches. At the next opportunity you have, get in the water for an easy swim-down session.

Your body will thank you!


Jen Schumacher

Marathon Swimmer,

Sport Psychology Consultant,