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A guide to warming up and cooling down when exercising

cool downThere is no doubt that time spent on warming up and cooling down are essential parts of a workout. Doing so will improve an athlete’s level of performance and accelerate the recovery process needed before and after training, or a competition.

Research suggests that the use of dynamic stretches – slow controlled movements through full range of motion, are the most appropriate exercises for the warm up. By contrast, static stretches are more appropriate for the cool down.

Warm Up

Warm up exercises prepare the body for exercise by increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, allowing them to loosen up. Doing this gradually increases the body’s temperature and helps muscles become flexible. Any strenuous activity that begins abruptly can cause injury, which is why it is important to warm up first.

This part of your exercise session also protects major joints by increasing the supply of lubrication to the articular cartilages – the body’s shock absorbers.

The intensity of a warm up should cause perspiration, but not fatigue. The type of warm up needs to be appropriate for the activity planned. It also needs to be appropriate to the age range and fitness level of the participants, usually 5-15 minutes in duration.

Warming up should consist of the following: 

  •  5 to 10 minutes walking or jogging  (to increase body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate)
  • 10 minutes of dynamic stretching exercises. Examples include:
    - Leg lifts
    - Butt kicks
    - Pike stretches
    - Walking lunges

Dynamic stretches are designed to take a joint or muscle through a challenging and repetitive motion. These types of stretches are ideal prior to exercise to prepare the joints for movement and muscles for optimal activation. It helps reduce the risk of the overuse injury. The short definition of dynamic stretching is “stretching as you are moving”. This video discusses the basics of dynamic stretching. What is Dynamic Stretching? 

Cool Down

The cool down period of an exercise session is just as important as the warm up. The aim is to decrease the intensity of the aerobic session, return the body to a state of rest and stretch muscle groups used in your workout.

Cooling down exercises prevent blood from pooling. It returns the blood back to the heart rather than allowing it to pool in the muscles that have been worked. It prevents dizziness and fainting by ensuring that the brain continues to receive a sufficient supply of blood and oxygen.

Stretching the muscle groups you used in your workout will return them to their normal length, reduce the delayed onset of muscular soreness, aid recovery and assist your body in its repair process. Cool down exercises also help to clear the body of lactic acid that builds up during any activity. Less lactic acid means less soreness and stiffness the next day!

Cooling down should consist of the following:

  • 5 to 10 minutes jogging or walking (decreases body temperature, brings heart rate back to normal and removes waste products from the working muscles)
  • 5 to 10 minutes of static stretching exercises
  • Deep breathing to help oxygenate your system

Static stretches are more appropriate for the cool down as they help muscles to relax, realign muscle fibers and re-establish their normal range of movement. These stretches should be held for approximately 30 seconds to two minutes. Static stretching is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest. It is composed of various techniques that gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position, to the point of discomfort. Static sustained stretches are designed to hold a position for a joint or muscle that is minimally challenging. The focus is on relaxing the body part being stretched and letting it go farther on its own. This video does a good job explaining the basics of static stretching.

Whether you are new to working out or have been playing a sport your entire life, adding a good before-and-after routine to your workout will give you the best chance of avoiding injuries and may even help improve your performance.

About Jennie Marshall

Jennie Marshall, PA, provides personalized orthopedic care at Affinity Health System. She has a special interest in orthopedic surgery and fracture care. Jennie earned her degree from Des Moines University in Iowa. She is nationally certified by the NCCPA and is professionally licensed by the state of Wisconsin. She is also a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

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