The Importance of Warm-up and Cool-down Exercises
When you are crunched for time and looking to maximize your workout, the first thing that typically gets cut is the warm-up and/or cool-down. This is a mistake for a number of reasons.
A warm-up doesn’t need to be terribly long but, it does need to exist. Taking 3-5 minutes to warm-up before any type of workout (strength or cardio), can drastically reduce your risk of injury and minimize any muscle soreness or stiffness in the days following.
A proper warm-up will also:
• Lubricate your joints and ligaments in preparation for higher intensity movements
• Increase heart rate and pump blood to working muscles
• Increase energy and mental readiness in preparation for your workout
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), warm-ups are necessary as a means for improving range of motion and reducing risk of injury.
The best warm-up should include Dynamic rather than Static movement. A dynamic warm-up can include:
• Low intensity settings on any cardio equipment including treadmill, elliptical or bike
• Leg or arm swings – start slow and work toward increasing pain-free range of motion. This is especially good to do prior to total body workouts. Also try small range of motion walking lunges as shown here
• Avoid Static stretching – holding a stretched position in an effort to increase flexibility is better suited to post workout cool-down. The NIH studies note that static stretching can actually negatively affect sport or exercise performance
Equally important but, often skipped is the cool-down. A quality cool-down can actually improve subsequent workouts. This is because cool-down exercises help to flush out waste products often accumulated during high intensity workouts (ie, lactic acid). If lactic acid is not flushed out, increased muscle stiffness and soreness result.
A proper cool-down will do the following:
• Decrease heart rate closer to its resting state
• Decrease core body temperature
• Help the body regulate blood pressure down to normal. This is important especially for those prone to light-headedness post workout
Cool-downs are simple and quick. All you need is 3-5 minutes. Include lower intensity cardio exercises followed by flexibility exercises. The cool-down is the appropriate time to include static stretching exercises in an effort to increase flexibility. These exercises include:
• Hamstring Stretch –
Press one heel forward, keep that leg stretch, hands at hips, push hips back and hold for 20-30seconds
• Quad Stretch –
Stand tall, balance on one leg, bend the opposite knee, reach back to that heel and pull toward the seat. Avoid over-arching the low back. Keep abdominals in and strong. Hold for 20-30seconds.
• Chest Stretch –
Clasp hands behind back or hold at hips. Pull elbows in toward each other, drawing shoulder blades down and together. Press elbows further in or hands further back to increase the stretch. Hold for 20-30seconds.
• Upper Back Stretch –
Clasp hands together in the front of your body. Bring your chin to your chest and push hands forward, opening up the mid back. Take a few deep breaths and hold for 20-30seconds.
If you take the time to warm-up and cool-down, your body will thank you with less injury, more energy and your subsequent workouts will rock as a result!