Two very important components to any workout are the warm up and cool down. The success of an exercise program can largely depend on how a session starts and ends. Sometimes people feel a time crunch, don't feel like warming up or cooling down, or simply forget, and they skip these vital parts of the workout. This post describes the why and how of warm ups and cool downs, with the goal to encourage everyone to include them in each training session for better success.
Warm up at the beginning of the workout, whether this is a run, cycle, weight lifting session, mat routine, or any other form of exercise. Movements should be easy paced, moving the body in all planes of motion and joints through range of motion. Heart rate and respiration gradually increase. With the rise in breathing rate and circulation, more oxygen is delivered to the muscles. The muscles get warm and ready to work. Moving joints through range of motion promotes increased synovial fluid into the joint, which functions to cushion and lubricate. The benefits of a proper warm up include decreased risk of injury to muscles and joints, safe and gradual increase of heart rate and breathing rate, and mental preparation for the session.
Warm up exercises can include a brisk walk including arm circles, marching on the spot and adding high knees plus reaches to the ceiling, or modified jumping jacks (tapping feet side to side while abducting arms to the side) as a few examples. You want to literally feel yourself warm up. While breathing rate increases, you should still be able to talk in short sentences, answer questions, but maybe it would be difficult to sing!
Now you have done a warm up, followed by a great workout session. The last 5-10 minutes, or more as preferred, are the cool down portion. During exercise, blood vessels dilate in our muscles helping to deliver oxygen and nutrients, and remove waste products such as lactic acid. If exercise is suddenly stopped, and you walk away from the gym without a cool down, the blood can pool in the extremities, causing light headedness and risk of loss of consciousness. By engaging in light cool down exercises and stretches, this venous pooling is avoided. As the muscles are warm at the end of the training session, it is a great time to stretch and maintain or increase flexibility. Balance out building strength with maintaining flexibility to prevent tightening around joints and misalignment.
A cool down can be done in standing, on a mat, or a combination. Stand with feet hip width apart, reach out to the side and up to the ceiling, bringing the palms together. Now side bend to one side and hold for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. This is an example of a standing cool down exercise. On the mat, lie on your back and reach one leg to the ceiling. Clasp hands behind the lifted leg, feeling a gentle stretch in the back of the leg, for a hamstring stretch. Breathe deeply while holding stretches to signal to your body to relax and allow the muscles to lengthen. Stretches should be gentle and not be forced.
Taking deep breaths during the cool down portion brings plenty of oxygen to the worked muscles as well as calming the mind. Meditative practices such as deep breathing have been shown to have numerous health benefits. End the workout feeling calm and ready to take on the rest of the day!
Include warm ups and cool downs in every workout. Reap the rewards!