With the hectic pace of life these days, most people find it hard enough to squeeze in regular exercise, let alone time for warming up and cooling down. But these are crucial components of any fitness regimen. Both help reduce the risk of injury.
What does a warmup do?
A warmup allows for a period of adjustment, gradually increasing heart rate, boosting muscle temperature, improving blood flow, redistributing blood to active muscles, and enhancing the delivery of nutrients to cells. It should last at least five to 10 minutes to prepare the body for what’s to come. It also provides a psychological cue, preparing the brain for higher intensity levels. Consequently, a warmup enhances performance.
How do I warm up?
A warmup should be sport specific, meaning that the gestures involved mimic the activity you’re about to do but at a lower intensity and slower speed. For instance, before running you’d do a walk or light jog; prior to hiking or skiing you’d include squats and other leg exercises; a round of racquet sports would call for upper- and lower-body movements as well as core work.
What does a cool-down do?
A cool-down prevents post-exercise venous blood pooling and an excessively fast drop in blood pressure, which combined helps reduce the chance of light-headedness or fainting. Plus it helps bring down the heart rate slowly, minimizing the chance of muscle spasms or cramping. A cool-down should last at least five minutes.
How do I cool down?
Cooling down is similar to warming up in that you can do the same movements outlined in the warmup above but at a slower pace and lower intensity. You might walk or jog, march on the spot or do the “grapevine” (essentially two steps side to side, bringing one leg behind the other). If you’re biking or swimming, you can continue those activities at an easier tempo.
When should I stretch?
Controversy exists over the best time to stretch during a workout. Research is still mixed when it comes to the beneficial effects of stretching during the warmup phase. Some studies suggest that pre-exercise stretching can yield diminished physical performance; others show that stretching right after the warmup can cause a detrimental drop in heart rate.
The Australian government’s guidelines on physical activity recommend stretching before and after an exercise session to warm up and cool down muscles. Static stretching, which involves reaching forwards to a point of tension and holding for about 30 seconds to elongate muscle, facilitates post-workout recovery, enhances muscle relaxation and helps remove waste products such as lactic acid.
Whether you’re skiing, doing Pilates or swimming, you can injure any muscle by not doing a proper warmup and cool-down. Some common injuries resulting from not warming up or cooling down properly are:
- sprains: the stretching or tearing of ligaments that hold bones together; elbow, knee, and ankle sprains are common
- strains: also called a “pulled muscle”, a strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon
- swollen muscles
Keeping in mind that warmups should include sport-specific motions, here are a few all-purpose exercises to at least get you started. Go at a slower pace than you would in the active workout phase, and don’t forget to use strong, purposeful movements with your arms. Engage your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
Marching on the spot
Lift knees up as high as you can with each step and pump arms back and forth by your sides. You can add variations such as a “straddle” step—taking the feet out wide then close together, in a pattern of “out, out, in, in”—or moving forward and backward.
Alternating legs, lift one knee up toward your chest. At the same time, push both arms from your shoulders up to the sky at a slight diagonal. Keep your supporting leg slightly bent.
Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart. Lift one heel up to your gluteal muscles, alternating sides. Simultaneously pull your elbows behind you, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Avoid swinging the arms; imagine you’re trying to open a heavy drawer.
Begin with arms at your sides. For high-impact jacks, start with feet together then separate them as you jump while raising your arms over your head. For low-impact jacks, tap your toes out to alternating sides as you lift arms overhead.
Using an imaginary skipping rope, turn your arms in small circles by your sides as you skip by alternating your heels out in front of you. If you want low impact, dig each heel into the floor in front of you without bouncing and alternate sides.
While stretching, remember to breathe deeply; keep the shoulders relaxed and the knees ever so slightly bent. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders relaxed, and belly button pulled in to engage your core. Extend your right leg in front of you and flex your foot, pointing your toes to the sky while keeping the knee relaxed. Place your hands on left thigh and bend at the hips as you bring your torso toward your right leg. Keep your back flat; avoid rounding the shoulders. Change sides.
Stand next to a chair with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Using your left hand to balance on the chair if necessary, bend your right leg behind you and grasp your right shoelaces or ankle in your right hand. Keep your knee in line with your hip and avoid leaning forward. Gently release and repeat on the other side.
Chest and arm stretch
Stand with your arms by your sides and your feet about hip-width apart. Extend both arms behind your back and clasp your hands together, gently squeezing your shoulder blades together and opening up through your chest.
Neck, upper back, and shoulder stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and clasp your hands in front of you. As you lift your arms to about chest height, gently rotate your palms so that they’re facing away from you.