The Importance Of A Warm Up And Cool Down

Any effective workout should begin with a dedicated warm up and finish with a cool down – each of these aspects of your workout should include movements and stretches that maximise your physical capabilities whilst simultaneously reducing the risk of injury. With a well structured warm up you can increase your performance throughout the session and with a correct cool down you can reduce the risk of injury post-session and also diminish DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness – representing the tightness and stiffness in your muscles that causes discomfort post-training).

The Importance Of A Warm Up And Cool Down – Warming Up

There are a few key factors to ensuring your warm up covers what is required to benefit you and doesn’t have any detrimental effect on your training. Those key factors are:

  • Specificity – Ensuring the exercises you are selecting as the core component of your warm up are specific to the muscles, joints and movements that you will be undertaking. This can be even more important if you are working with heavy weight as the body can be under far greater pressure. Specific warm up exercises help to rehearse the correct neuromuscular response patterns and as a direct result increase the co-ordination of those matching movements.
  • Mobility – a key factor in specificity is ensuring you are working to improve the mobility of the joints that will be under stress. A good example would be partial bodyweight squats before moving to barbell squats. The great thing about mobility exercises is that they generate warmth within the joint, stimulate the release of synovial fluids and results in greater shock absorption and a smoother sliding surface for the cartilage.
  • Pulse – elevating the heart rate leads to a process called vasodilation which results in increased circulation of heat, blood, nutrients and oxygen. Another huge benefit of increase heart rate is that your nervous system is “warmed” and therefore far more prepared to work faster and more efficiently.
  • Stretching – a good warm up will include “short stretches” that lengthen the muscles under tension for a short period of time. This will actively warm and lengthen the muscle promoting blood flow and elasticity. It greatly reduces the risk of injury and can improve mobility for the exercises you have planned.

I would suggest that you begin your warm up with a short and steady pulse raising exercise such as walking on a treadmill followed by specific stretches that target the correct muscle groups you intend to train. This should, ideally, be followed up by some mobility exercises and capped off with another short pulse raiser to “re-warm” the muscles and prepare the body for the harder training to come.

The Importance Of A Warm Up And Cool Down – Cooling Down

There are also key aspects of a well structured cool down and methods of making your cool down more efficient, more effective and more beneficial for your body. Those key aspects are:

  • Relief – during exercise your muscle contract around thin walled veins which forces blood back to the heart (called muscular pump). After exercise is stopped your body often lacks this driving force resulting in the retention of that blood within the muscles. When you stop exercising a process called blood pooling occurs. Blood pooling is when your heart continues to pump blood around the body at an increase rate. This blood quickly begins to pool in the lower body and, if the heart doesn’t see enough of the blood return, can lead to a drop in blood pressure which places undue stress on the heart. A correctly structure cool down programme will be tapered to slowly lower the heart rate and gradually decrease pressure on the veins and muscles.
  • Pulse – lowering the heart rate gradually works as mentioned above; it also helps to maintain steady cardiac output and clear the waste products of exercise (such as lactic acid). Pulse lowering activity should generally last between 5 and 10 minutes at a gradual state to avoid the shock factor of stopping immediately.
  • Flexibility – post-training stretching is quite literally the most important thing you can do to finish your session. it is essential in maintaining a good range of movement in the muscles and around the joints, increases mobility and flexibility generally, helps with muscular imbalances and promotes postural awareness and acts as a great way of easing tension across the body. The heat generated by your workout will improve the elasticity of your muscles enabling you to get deeper into your stretches. A well structure post-workout stretching routine should last between 5 and 10 minutes.
  • Performance – with focused cooling down you will reduce the risk of DOMS (as mentioned above) and, as a result, reduce the risk of injuries such as muscle pulls or strains. This will directly affect your ability to perform within the days following your workout and can improve your training capacity and “fitness” in general as a by-product.

Flexibility after workouts should be improved by “developmental stretching” in which you follow a simple process which promotes increases in flexibility in the targeted muscles. Remember that developmental stretches should only be performed at the end of a workout at which point your body is warmest and most pliable.

Developmental Stretching Process:

  1. Bring yourself to a stretched position and maintain position for approximately 25 seconds. This hold overcomes your “stretch reflex” which is a process within muscles that the body uses to void over-stretching and injury.
  2. Once the stretch reflex has been activated you must hold the position of tension for a further 10 seconds.
  3. Remember only to stretch to a point of tension and not pain.
  4. Gently and slowly bring yourself out of the movement with control to avoid any jerking of the muscles or joints.

The Importance Of A Warm Up And Cool Down – Summarised Benefits

  • Improved performance
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Greater mobility
  • Greater flexibility
  • Less DOMS

Hopefully, after having read through this blog you will find time to introduce these essential aspects of any good training programme into your session and reap the many, many benefits as well as avoid the multiple risks and dangers of skipping them. If you require assistance with developing the correct warm up and stretch for any specific muscle groups that you are working then seek out a fully qualified and trusted personal trainer or gym instructor for assistance or do some research on the internet; YouTube always offers great information on training.

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