By: John Vasile, NSCA
Many people tend to skip incorporating a proper warm-up and cool-down into their workout programs.
This is commonly avoided in order to save a few minutes at the gym. However, individuals who neglect these pre- and post-workout activities are missing out on some essential health and fitness benefits.
Warming up before exercise is beneficial for several reasons. It may help prepare your body for both aerobic and anaerobic activity. A warm-up session gradually increases the working capability of the cardiovascular system. As a result, there is a surge in blood flow to the body’s periphery (muscles) and an increase in core body temperature.
This pre-workout activity improves the elasticity of muscles and joints, engages neural pathways and stimulates muscles in preparation for performance. Lubricating fluid is also dispersed throughout joints in order to reduce friction during movement.
Increases in body temperature also increase the disassociation of oxygen from hemoglobin to myoglobin. Therefore, oxygen is made more readily available to the muscles during activity.
There is an increase in the speed of nerve-impulse transmission and a reduction in muscle viscosity. Reduction in muscle viscosity encourages muscle suppleness, which enhances mechanical efficiency and power.
In other words, warming up will prime the body for fitness activity and minimize the risk of injury. Without a proper warm-up, injuries could include sprains, strains, swollen muscles and joint issues.
There are different types of warm-ups just as there are different ways to exercise. Typically, warming up includes doing the same type of activity you would be doing during regular exercise but at a lower intensity and slower pace. This is performed at a gradual progression. For instance, a proper warm-up for a run would be a brisk walk transitioning into a jog.
Warm-up activities should include stimulating large-muscle groups before progressing to sport-specific movements. For resistance training, one would perform a set of repetitions at up to 50 percent of the target-workout intensity. Individuals should work to a light sweat with minimal fatigue. Dynamic warm-up routines act by challenging your flexibility, mobility, strength and stability all at once. These could include lateral shuffles, elbow circles, high knees, lunges, as well as other functional movements. Dynamic warm-ups are vital for athletes to perform at their optimum level.
Cooling down after exercise is just as important in minimizing the risk of injury as the warming-up process is. The main goal of a cool-down is to aid in recovery and return the body to its pre-workout state. This can be completed by gradually decreasing exercise intensity. For instance, a runner would transition to a light jog and then to a walk.
One of the first steps in cooling down involves slowing down heart rate and breathing. Doing this gradually enables the body to properly recirculate blood back to the heart and prevent blood pooling. Blood pooling occurs when lactic acid and other waste products — increased during exercise — stay in muscles and cause swelling and pain.
After an individual’s heart rate has decreased, it is important to release strain on muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments. These areas undergo a lot of stress throughout exercise; therefore, it is crucial to perform post-workout stretches. Muscles do not fully recover until elongated back to pre-workout length. Static stretching is a very common type of activity where muscles are lengthened, while the body remains at rest. One example of a static stretch would be bending over and reaching toward your toes in order to stretch hamstrings, glutes and lower-back muscles. These stretches are usually held for at least 30 seconds.
There is controversy over whether stretching should be done before or after working out. According to the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, it has been suggested that stretching muscles prior to exercise can actually decrease strength significantly. Also, static stretching should be performed only after muscles are warm in order to prevent injury. Dynamic movements should be used prior to exercise in order to engage muscles and encourage mobility/flexibility.
In conclusion, the warm-up and cool-down may be as important as the exercise itself. Not only will injury be prevented, but you will gain more from your workouts in the process.
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