With the vast array of exercise and fitness choices available to us today, it seems gym enthusiasts are more pumped than ever to hit the gym and knock out a sweat session. However, before hitting the weight room, the cardio machines, or popping into a group fitness class, it’s important to warm up before and cool down after. Here we breakdown why a warm up and cool down are the most important 10 minutes of your workout.
Why Should I Warm Up & Cool Down?
Warming up isn’t just for the physical body, it also plays a role in the mental aspect of your fitness performance. Warm up exercises help prevent injury while also prepping the body for a great workout. The best warm up sessions combine cardio, stretching, and strength activities.
A pre-workout cardio warm up increases the body’s overall temperature as well as muscle temperature, which in turn increases blood flow to active muscles. Giving the body a proper warm up prior to a workout also reduces stress upon the heart and decreases the risk of soft tissue injuries. Once the body’s muscles are loosened up and “warm,” they respond better to fitness challenges. A warm up and cool down combined need only add about five minutes to each end of your workout.
What’s the Best Way to Warm Up?
Prior to a cardio workout, slow and steady aerobic movements, such as walking on the treadmill, riding a stationary bike, jumping rope, or marching in place are ideal warm ups. Start slowly and gradually build up your pace and intensity to lubricate the joints and prime the heart.
Strength training shortens and lengthens the muscles, so they are prone to pull or tear if not properly warmed up. Before a strength training session, focus on warm up stretches focusing on the part of the body that will be “worked” during your session. For example, if it’s “leg day” do some easy squats and lunges; when it’s time to work the arms, do some stretching, then exercises with little or no weights such as arm circles or bent knee pushups.
Why a Cool Down is Important
After a workout, it’s also important to cool the body down by easing off the intensity of your high-energy exercise mode. For example, runners should slow to a jog, then a brisk walk to cool down. Stretching is beneficial to maintain the body’s flexibility after a strength training session rather than allowing the muscles to return too rapidly to a shortened state. Cool down exercises also allow the body to regulate back to a normal state, avoiding dizziness or any sharp decreases in blood pressure. Walking or swimming are great cool down exercises.