You're ready to hit the elliptical machine or the running trails. Before you do, though, consider doing a brief warm-up, followed by a quick cool-down session when you're done exercising. Sure, a warm-up and cool-down may add a few minutes to your exercise routine, but they also might help you stay healthier.
Why warm up and cool down
There's some controversy about whether warming up and cooling down offer health benefits. But proper warm-ups and cool-downs pose little risk, so if you have the time, consider adding them to your workout schedule. Warm-ups and cool-downs generally involve doing your activity at a slower pace and reduced intensity.
Warming up may help prepare your body for aerobic activity. Warming up gradually revs up your cardiovascular system, increases blood flow to your muscles and raises your body temperature. Jumping into an aerobic workout without preparing your body could lead to such problems as muscle strain or injury.
Cooling down after your workout may help gradually reduce the temperature of your muscles, especially if you've had an intense workout. Cooling down may help reduce muscle injury, stiffness and soreness, but the research is uncertain.
How to warm up
Warm up right before you plan to start your workout. In general, warm up by focusing first on large muscle groups, such as your hamstrings. Then you can do exercises more specific to your sport or activity, if necessary. A warm-up may cause mild sweating, but it shouldn't leave you fatigued.
Here are some examples of warm-up activities:
- To warm up for a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
- To warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
- To warm up for strength training, move your muscles and joints through the movement patterns you'll do during the exercise, but before you start with weights.
- To warm up for soccer, do slow, soccer-specific running drills.
- To warm up for swimming, swim slowly at first and then pick up the tempo as you're able to.
How to cool down
Cooling down is similar to warming up. You generally continue your workout session, but at a slower pace and reduced intensity. Cooling down may be most important to the best athletes, such as well-conditioned marathoners. For them, cooling down is important because it helps regulate blood flow. For others, cooling down may simply become an enjoyable ritual as part of an overall exercise program.
Here are some examples of cool-down activities:
- To cool down after a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
- To cool down after a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
- To cool down after biking, spin on your bicycle at higher revolutions per minute (around 100) as you finish your exercise.
- To cool down after swimming, swim some leisure laps for five to 10 minutes, varying your strokes.
A word about stretching
Consider adding stretching to your cool-down session. Stretching can increase blood flow to your muscles. Stretching may also help improve your performance in some activities or decrease your risk of injury by allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion.
If you have a tight or previously injured muscle, stretch the affected muscle after you warm up. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. And remember to keep it gentle. Don't bounce. Don't stretch to the point of pain. Sudden or aggressive stretching motions may actually cause an injury or worsen and injury.
Be kind to your body
Finding time for regular aerobic workouts — plus warming up and cooling down — can be challenging. But if you're tempted to skip warming up and cooling down, get creative. If you walk to a fitness facility, use the trip there and back to warm up and cool down. Remember, be kind and give your body time to adjust to the demands of your workout.