What's in a warm up? Why cool down?
If I was a betting man, I'd put a good sum of money on the fact that the bulk of people don't warm up or cool down properly when exercising. Why would I be so sure? Well I see it, and I've been that person - sometimes I still am!
In this short post, I'm going to lay out the vital reasons why a warm up and cool down should be classed as part of your workout, not just the annoying bit you have to do in order to get stuck into the main course.
A warm up is performed before your main portion of exercise and should aim to prepare the mind and body for the upcoming exertion. Don't let the need to smash a Strava segment, or a lack of time be the reason why you neglect it.
A warm up will raise the temperature of the body. This in turn reduces the chance for muscular or tendon injuries. Need I continue explaining any more benefits? If we're exercising we've probably got a goal in mind and being injured will only derail our progress and could damage our mental wellbeing. I know of someone who recently hit a run too fast, got a muscular injury, and they had to stop running for 10 weeks - 10!!
The cardiovascular system gets revved up. Does your car perform better once it's warmed up or when you've just turned the key? At what stage do you think your engine is happier? This is a strong metaphor and you need to think about your cardiovascular system the same way. If you go from sitting to running you'll shock the system and you'll struggle to get the best out of it. The chances are you'll also immediately create an oxygen deficit (the body needs more so you breath hard until you replace the oxygen to the working muscles) which will make life hard from the get go. By gently warming up you'll raise your heart rate steadily, get the blood pumping around the body, and will be transporting oxygen to the working muscles. Everything is getting on board with what is about to happen.
It offers an opportunity to stretch Dynamic stretching should be your focus in a warm up. This is a stretch that involves movement through the full range of motion. It activates your muscle and prepares it for exercise, and thanks to the moving nature of the stretch it'll also help to raise that heart rate. Some examples of this may be a Squat to Overhead Reach, walking lunges with a twist, or Snow Angels. Get on Youtube as there are hundreds of options.
Get the mind on board Day to day life can be an absolute buzzkill when it comes to getting your exercise in. Sometimes it is easy to just bump that training session because you don't feel it, although you know that once it's done you won't regret a second. I certainly believe you should listen to your body but sometimes a warm up is all you need to get your mind out of work or parent mode and into workout mode. If your mind and body is still not on board after a 10 minute warm up, take it as a red flag and cut the session, or maybe change the aim (Do some foam rolling, stretching and mobility, visualisation)
Ways to Warm Up
In a gym it's pretty simple, get on a cardio machine and start steady. With any warm up you want to be warming up muscles you're about to use in the main workout, just at a lesser intensity. So let's say you're about to do an upper body session, jump on a Rower or X-Trainer rather than a treadmill.
If you don't have cardio equipment at home then you may choose to go for a light run, do some star jumps or use some resistance bands to get the muscles warm and mobile. Doing some housework such as mopping or sweeping the floor is a double whammy!
Aim for a 10-15 minute warm up, or longer if required to get the body to that exercise state.
A cool down is performed after your main session and should be seen as a way of gently bringing your body back down to a normal state.
Prevents discomfort from blood pooling A cool down will give your veins the time they need to contract, and as such the blood pressure will drop. This in turn assists the transition of blood from the lower extremities back into the resting flow patterns.
Steadily brings the Heart Rate back to a pre-exercise state. You'll be cooling down a while to bring it back down to your resting rate, but you can certainly help coax it back down steadily toward the figure. This will in turn prevent dizziness and potential fainting.
Flushes out Lactic Acid Vigorous exercise will produce lactic acid as a bi-product and a cool down will help flush this out of your muscles. Flushing out lactic acid will help prevent (some) muscle soreness. This is particularly key if you'll be training the following day.
A light jog, cycle or row with reducing pace / intensity is ideal to tick off any of the above points.
Provides an opportunity stretch A workout will cause damage to your muscles and so it is important to perform static stretches on the muscles you've been using. A static stretch is where you hold a position for 15-20 seconds. Hold the stretch for 30+ seconds if you hope to do developmental stretching, whereby you'll be helping increase flexibility and mobility of the muscle. Again, there are hundreds of static stretches available to see online. A cool down should be at least 5-10 minutes long.
So there it is, scientific and evidence backed information on the pros of spending 20-30 minutes total warming up and cooling down. If you're short on time then think about how you can alter your workout to accommodate this as ultimately you risk pain and injury by skipping out on it.