Warming up and cooling down correctly are fundamental, yet often overlooked parts of any training program. While these components to training are very basic, many people tend to skip them and just start with their work out.
Warm up exercises benefits us by preparing our body for all aerobic activities. A good warm-up gradually turns up our cardiovascular system and raises our body temperature and increases blood flow to our muscles. It may also help reduce muscle soreness and lessen our risk of injury.
When increasing the session of exercises, our body necessitates creating a lot of adjustments in our setup. This includes:
- Increase in the breathing and heart rate,
- Increase in the energy-releasing reactions in the muscles
- Increase in blood flow to the muscles to supply with more oxygen and to remove waste products.
These changes do not occur straight away, but require a number of minutes for the necessary levels. So the basic purpose of a warm-up is to boost these adjustments to happen gradually.
A warm-up usually takes the form of some mild exercise that gradually increases the intensity.
What does a warm-up fix?
A pre-exercise warm-up does more than just make you warm:
- Increases blood flow to the muscles, which enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients;
warms our muscles, which promotes the energy-releasing reactions used during exercise and makes the muscles more supple;
- Prepares our muscles for stretching;
- Prepares our heart for an increase in activity;
- Prepares us mentally for the upcoming exercise;
- Primes our nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise; and
- Prevents unnecessary stress and fatigue being placed on our muscles and heart, which can occur if we exercise actively without a warm-up.
This popular warm-up approach gets all the joints moving one at a time, then all together, taking the body through progressive movements that loosen and stretch your muscles. Classic dynamic moves include walking lunges, toe touches, and high knees.
The warm-up is widely viewed as a modest measure to prepare our body for exercise of a moderate to high intensity, and is believed to help recover injury during exercise. Although there is a lack of clear scientific evidence that warming up prevents injuries – due to ethical constraints of doing studies in which the design involves a potential increased risk of injury to some participants – anecdotal evidence and logic would suggest that a warm-up should reduce the risk and, at worst, not increase it.
Why cool down?
The practice of cooling down after exercise means slowing down your level of activity gradually.
Benefits of Cooling down:
- Helps our heart rate and breathing to return towards resting levels gradually.
- Helps avoid fainting or dizziness, which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is stopped suddenly.
- Helps to remove metabolites (intermediate substances formed during metabolism) from our muscles, such as lactic acid, which can build up during vigorous activity (lactic acid is most effectively removed by gentle exercise rather than stopping suddenly); and
helps prepare our muscles for the next exercise session, whether it’s the next day or in a few days’ time.
Ensuring an effective cool-down
For an effective cool-down, perform low intensity exercise for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes; and follow this with a stretching routine cool-down options.
- Continuing your chosen exercise while gradually lowering its intensity
2. Slow jogging, brisk walking or gentle cycling
Stretching as part of your cool-down
The best time to stretch is during our cool-down, as at this time our muscles are still warm and most likely to respond favorably, and there is a low risk of injury. Stretching helps to relax the muscles and restore them to their resting length, and improve flexibility (the range of movement about our joints).
As a guide, allow 10 minutes of post-exercise stretching for every one hour of exercise. Make these post-exercise stretches more thorough than the pre-exercise stretches. Ensure that you stretch all the major muscle groups that you have used during your exercise. Stretch each muscle group for 20 to 30 seconds, 2 to 3 times.
A good workout consists of a solid warm up, a period of stretching, a more strenuous portion increasing the heart rate and a cool down period, which often includes stretching. When you take the time to experience each of these workout segments, you will experience fewer occurrences of injuries and increase your workout enjoyment.