From Start to Finish
Investigating the best way to warm up and cool down for your workout
Every successful workout begins with a 5- to 10-minute warm-up and ends with a similar cool-down. Because they add a few extra minutes to your workout, you may be tempted to skip both, but you’d be doing a disservice to your body.
A warm-up helps prep your muscles for exercise by gradually increasing body temperature, blood flow, oxygen, and nerve impulses to your muscles. This in turn will improve your performance, increase your range of motion, and reduce your risk of injury. A cool-down, on the other hand, is a gradual way to decrease your body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure to its normal state.
Stopping exercise too suddenly without a cool-down period may cause you to feel light headed due to a quick drop in blood pressure and heart rate.
Now that you know why you need to warm-up and cool-down, here’s how to do it.
The type of warm-up you do may depend on the exercise you’re planning for your workout. A warm-up generally starts with a slower, easier form of the exercise you’ll be doing and adds in a few dynamic stretches. You may start to sweat, but you shouldn’t get to the point of feeling out of breath yet.
Start by getting your pulse elevated with a few minutes of aerobic activity. Going to walk for your workout? Then start with a slow paced walk. Planning to run? Then warm-up with a brisk walk. Going swimming? Start out slowly. You get the idea.
When your muscles are warmed up, it’s time for a few dynamic stretches. Also known as active stretching, this type of stretching works large muscle groups to increase your range of motion. Move your muscles through their range by repeating movements such as arm circles, hip circles, lateral leg swings, jumping jacks, high-knees, and body twists.
Static stretches that hold a muscle in a particular position generally aren’t recommended during a warm-up unless you have a trouble spot or past injury. Talk with your trainer about whether static stretches like toe touches or hamstring stretches should be included in your warm-up.
You’ve finished your last rep at the gym. There is a lot to do back at the office or your family is waiting for you anxiously at home, but don’t head out just yet. You need to undergo a cool-down process. A cool-down is usually similar to your warm-up. Whatever type of exercise you were doing for your workout you just continue at a slower pace for a few minutes. Gradually reduce the intensity of your exercise to slowly bring your heart rate down to a normal range. During the end of your cool-down, when your muscles and joints are still warm, is an ideal time to spend a few minutes performing static stretches.
Done to increase your range of motion and flexibility during and after working out, stretching should never be painful. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds without bouncing and remember to breathe through each stretch. Whatever muscles you used during exercise should be gently stretched. Not sure what muscles ought to be stretched out? Be safe and stretch all your major muscle groups. A full-body stretch will include your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, IT band, groin, abdominals, shoulders, chest, triceps, and wrists.
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