With the vast array of exercise and fitness choices available to us today — from group classes to weightlifting, and even the almost cult-like following of CrossFit — it seems gym enthusiasts are more pumped than ever to hit the gym and knock out a sweat session. That’s a good thing! However, before hitting the weight room, the cardio machines, or popping into a group fitness class, it’s important to warm up before and cool down after.Here we breakdown why a warm up and cool down are the most important 10 minutes of your workout. Read on for the most beneficial warm up stretches and cool down exercises to make your workout more effective.
Why Should I Warm Up & Cool Down?
Warming up isn’t just for the physical body, it also plays a role in the mental aspect of your fitness performance. Warm up exercises help prevent injury while also prepping the body for a great workout. The best warm up sessions combine cardio, stretching, and strength activities.
A pre-workout cardio warm up increases the body’s overall temperature as well as muscle temperature, which in turn increases blood flow to active muscles. When these temperatures are increased they help increase the rate that the body produces energy, loosen tissue surrounding the joints, increase range of motion, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve contraction and reflex times. Add in some stretching to mimic the motions you will be making with the muscles and some explosive strength activities (like jumping) to round out your warm up.
Giving the body a proper warm up prior to a workout also reduces stress upon the heart and decreases the risk of soft tissue injuries. Once the body’s muscles are loosened up and “warm,” they respond better to fitness challenges. A warm up and cool down combined need only add about five minutes to each end of your workout. Of course, feel free to add more time if you have it, or if you are training for a physically demanding or time intensive activity.
What’s the Best Way to Warm Up?
Prior to a cardio workout, slow and steady aerobic movements, such as walking on the treadmill, riding a stationary bike, jumping rope, or marching in place are ideal warm ups. Start slowly and gradually build up your pace and intensity to lubricate the joints and prime the heart.
Strength training shortens and lengthens the muscles, so they are prone to pull or tear if not properly warmed up. Before a strength training session, focus on warm up stretches focusing on the part of the body that will be “worked” during your session. For example, if it’s “leg day” do some easy squats and lunges; when it’s time to work the arms, do some stretching, then exercises with little or no weights such as arm circles or bent knee pushups.
A warm up activity can be as simple as a low intensity version of whatever activity you are preparing the body to do. You can also choose to do something entirely different! Whatever you do, do so gradually to allow the body time to adapt and prepare.
Why a Cool Down is Important
After a workout, it’s also important to cool the body down by easing off the intensity of your high-energy exercise mode. For example, runners should slow to a jog, then a brisk walk to cool down. Stretching is beneficial to maintain the body’s flexibility after a strength training session rather than allowing the muscles to return too rapidly to a shortened state. Cool down exercises also allow the body to regulate back to a normal state, avoiding dizziness or any sharp decreases in blood pressure. Walking or swimming are great cool down exercises.
Warming up and cooling down are integral elements that should be incorporated into every workout. These few extra minutes before and after an exercise routine go a long way towards making the most out of each workout while protecting the body from injury and stress.