Science proves that no matter how relaxed or intense you’re training session, activity or sport, warming up before and cooling down after exercise can have a variety of health benefits. All fitness programs need to allow time for stretching to allow the body to be ready for exercise and help maximise recovery.
You need to make sure that the warm-up and cool-down are performed effectively to achieve the best results. This article will give an overview of the science behind a warm-up and cool-down and how to effectively get started with both tips and links to exercises to include in your regular training routine.
An effective warm-up can expand your blood vessels, warranting greater oxygen supply to muscles (this is a great for a workout). Your muscle temperature is raised and primed for optimal efficiency and movement, meaning that when you move joints through their full range you can be more effective at moving them under tension or load. You need to make sure that heart rate is raised slowly as this minimises unwanted stress on the heart. A gradual warm-up prepares both the circulatory and respiratory systems.
In simple terms, a warm up is prepping your body for the up coming exercise routine or activity so you can move most effectively in that given routine. It can be a nice transition mentally by clearing your mind and getting ready for the upcoming workout.
The cool-down is just as critical as it keeps blood flowing throughout the body and avoids significant drops in your heart rate or blood pressure. Static stretching after a training session can allow for greater movement and therefore less stress on both the surrounding joints and tendons. When performing static stretching properly, it can effectively improve flexibility over time.
THE WARM UP
A warm-up generally takes the form of some gentle exercise that gradually increases in intensity. Firstly you must transition yourself in a small amount of low-level cardiovascular exercise to slowly increase heart rate (Use tips below to determine how long).
The next stage is to move into dynamic ranges of movement that best mirror your activities. An effective warm up should do the following:
- Increases blood flow to working muscles
- Makes muscles more supple (energy for muscles to work harder)
- Prepares heart for increased activity
- Primes nerve pathways to help muscles fire more readily
- Mental stimulation
- Can help prevent unwanted stress or fatigue being placed on heart and working muscles
WARM UP TIPS:
- A minimum of 5-10 minutes. The longer or more intense an activity the longer the warm-up should be
- Utilize activities that closely mirror your upcoming workout/activity or sport
- Use your entire body for most effective results
- Avoid static holding as it cools muscle down (used during the cool down)
This last point is a key common mistake many people make when warming up. Static stretching while warming up has been proven to be less effective and/or beneficial when compared to other warm-up activities that achieve the above outcomes. Some studies even suggest that static stretching prior to strength training may reduce session performance.
THE COOL DOWN
An area that can often get ignored is the cool-down after physical exercise. Just as a warm-up preps the body for physical activity, the cool-down brings your body back to its normal state. For an effective cool-down perform low intensity exercise after session and follow using a static stretching routine on the muscles that were working throughout the workout.
An effective cool-down is essential for the body’s recovery process, in that it can assist in reducing muscles shortening and likelihood of an injury occurring. It could also improve your performance of your next training session. Stretching can help relax working muscles and restore them to their resting length by improving flexibility.
An effective cool-down should do the following:
- Helps breathing and heart rate return to resting levels steadily
- Helps prevent blood pooling in large muscles (prevents fainting or dizziness occurring)
- Helps to remove metabolites from working muscles (lactic acid is more readily removed through gentle exercise rather than stopping suddenly)
- Prepares your muscles and body for the next training session by giving adequate recovery
COOL DOWN TIPS:
- A minimum of 5-10 minutes. The longer or more intense an activity the longer the cool-down
- Utilise stretches that mirror your workout movements (stretch muscles that were used in workout)
- Stretch each muscle group 20-30 seconds
- Use an effective routine to maximise relaxation (position and movement – standing, sitting or lying)
- Stretch muscle more than once (2-3 times) for more effective long term results
- Do not bounce into stretch but instead use slow controlled movements
- Breathe as your stretch (slow and controlled breathes in and out)
There are a variety of health benefits linked with performing an effective warm-up (before session) and cool-down (after session).
A shortened summary can include:
- Reduced risk of injury
- Greater performance and improved fitness
- Greater mental concentration and relaxation (due to less stress on the body)
- Faster recovery from activity
- Improved flexibility (move more freely everyday)
Remember that any form of stretching is best performed when your muscles are warm. Stretching muscles when they are cold can give higher probability to tearing or causing an injury.
Achieving your exercise or fitness goals is not just about working intensely. Take the time to complete both an effective warm-up and cool-down during your next workout to maximise both your fitness goals and performance.
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training
- Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine 2007.
- Bishop D. Warm up II: performance changes following active warm up and how to structure the warm up. Sports Medicine 2003.