Importance of warm up and cool down

Written by Alison Yeung

Importance of Warm Up and Cool Down

As winter draws near and temperatures drop, the importance of a warm up before exercise and a cool down after exercise cannot be understated.  Although most people know that warming up is a normal practice before beginning a workout, it is tempting to skip a warmup or cooldown if time is limited.   However, this article explains why warming up and cooling down the body is essential for preventing injuries and optimizing performance.

Why Do We Need to Warm Up?

The purpose of a warm up is to literally warm the muscles of the body so that they are prepared to stretch during exercise movements.  If the muscles are not warm, then rigorous exercise can cause muscle strains or ligament/ tendon tears.  In addition, performance in your workout or sport can be hindered without a proper warmup, since the muscles would be less able to move through certain ranges of motion.

How Do I Warm Up?

Although your warmup will depend on what kind of workout or sport you are doing, there should always be a cardio aspect to gradually increase the heart rate and increase the core temperature.  5-10 minutes of light cardio is sufficient.  Some examples of cardio warmups include:

  • Skipping rope
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jogging (can be in place)
  • Speed walking
  • Light elliptical
  • Cycling

In addition to increasing your heart rate, it is beneficial to warm up any specific movements you may be doing in your workout or sport.  This will help prevent injury because the ranges of motion you go through during exercise might be different than the ranges of motion you use for activities of daily living.  For example, if you are about to squat heavy weights, doing squats with no weights first will help your body attune to the movement and focus on form before you lift a heavier load.  If you are about to play football, warming up with agility and speed drills will help your fast twitch muscles “wake up” and be ready for quick movements during the game.

Lastly, you can do warmup exercises for specific muscles that you want to activate during your workout.  For instance, if you are doing squats, you might want to do some glute-firing exercises beforehand, so that those muscles are more likely to be activated as you squat during your workout.

Why Do We Need to Cool Down?

After an intense workout, your heart rate is elevated and your core temperature is high.  Even after a low-intensity workout or sport, certain muscles that are used repetitively during the activity are tight by the end.  Thus, it is important to cool down to bring the body temperature back to normal and counteract any tension on the muscles.

How Do I Cool Down?

Immediately after an intense cardio workout, a cool down should start with some light movements such as walking or side stepping back and forth.  This gradually decreases the heart rate, prevents dizziness, and prevents blood from pooling in the veins.[1]

Stretching is also imperative after exercising. Static stretches (stretches that are held in one position) are good for counteracting the shortening of muscles after repetitive use in a workout.  For example, runners should take care to stretch their quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, IT bands, and glutes after running.  Lying spine twists are also helpful in stretching the lower back.  Golfers may want to stretch their lower backs because of the constant rotational motion of the sport, as well as their hip flexors and calves from all the bent over stances and walking.  Ultimately, you want to be doing stretches for the muscles that you used the most in your exercise.  This will assure that those muscles do not shorten or build up tension that could limit your range of motion or cause injury.  Make sure to hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds, and be careful to not overstretch; you should feel a gentle pull on the muscle but never pain.

Moreover, although it can seem time-consuming and boring to warm up and cool down, both practices significantly improve your body’s movement and protect your body from injury.  It is worth it to take those extra 5-10 minutes before and after your workout.  Your body will thank you in the long run!

group doing stretches to warm up and cool down

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