An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
– Benjamin Franklin
Warm up and cool down is a very important part of the workout. If done correctly, it reduces the risk for injury and improves your workout performance. While warming up helps the heart and the body adapt and prepare it for the main workout, cooling down does the exact opposite and relaxes your body. Although there is a long standing debate of whether warming up and cooling down can prevent injuries, proper warmups and cool-downs may cause little risk. Additionally, it has the capability to ease your heart and blood vessels thus creating a proper flow in your exercise session.
The Warmup and cool down also has certain pre-requisites. Let us look at these tips objectively.
1. Warmup is gradually progressing towards your workout
Warming up helps prepare your body for the main workout. Warmup exercises increases your cardiovascular activity gradually. This slowly increases your body temperature and blood flow to your muscles. This will help reduce the soreness of the muscles as you move towards your main workout. Injuries are majorly caused due to shock or tension caused to the muscles. Warming them up, actually prepares your muscles for the workout and thus may reduce the chance of injury. Some of the warmup exercises can be brisk walking, light jog, slow swimming, jumping jacks, high knees, squats, pushups, skipping and jumping exercises etc.
2. Cool down is phasing out of the workout slowly
Cooling down post workout helps recovery of the muscles. When we workout the target muscle expands. We push the expanded muscle further. When you finish your workout, these muscles would have normally expanded above their limits. Cooling down exercises are generally controlled exercises performed at a slow speed which gradually reduces the heart rate and the body temperature which would technically have shot up during your workout. This further helps contract and eventually normalise these expanded muscles. Some of the cool down exercises can be pull ups, stretching, brisk walking, light jog, slow swimming, breathing exercises or meditation etc.
3. Align the warmup and cool down to your main workout
Each and every one of us tend to do the same set of warmup and cool down exercises irrespective of the workout that we do. Frankly, this does not help us. The warmup and cool down needs to be focused on the type of workout you will be performing that day. eg. for any sport, include warming up of the hamstrings, activate your core muscles, gradually increase your heart rate. Again, this may differ from sport to sport. eg. while running, we would concentrate more on the legs and lower back, a little on the upper body. For cycling, lower body and the back especially. Hands and neck need to be loosened up as well. Similiarly, working out the gym, if it is your upper body day, focus on warmup exercises for the upper body. Warmup can also mean doing your main workout but at the lowest intensity possible or at a slow pace. eg. a set of bodyweight biceps curl or hand rotations, can be a good warmup for the arms if you are planning to work on your arms in the gym. Bottom line is loosen up your muscles and joints with a focus on the actual workout you will be performing.
Similarly, cool down also needs to be focused on the muscles that you have actually worked on. eg. after a good run, focus on stretching the legs, back, open up your shoulders. If you have cycled today, stretch your legs, back neck and hands. On a legs day at the gym, end with floor exercises that stretch your legs and the muscles you have actually worked on. Some people walk on the treadmill in the gym after a legs day. Brisk to slow walking can be a good way to loosen up the leg muscles. End it with a nice meditation or just close your eyes till ypur heart rate comes back to normal.
4. Stretching is not a warmup
Most people tend to stretch during the warmup session. It is advisable to not begin a warmup with stretching. Stretching improves flexibility and mobility of the muscles, and it is best to perform the same when your body is warm. Some exercises infact help to improve your range of motion and may help you with some of your main workouts. However, largely, athletes and trainers tend to use stretching at a very slow pace as they cool down to mitigate the soreness and stiffness of the muscles post a workout. But, if you feel that that your muscles are stiff when you begin the workout, try stretching just before your main workout begins. This will give your heart rate and body temperature a break and also free up your stiff muscles.
5. Never never never miss it
The main reason why we skip a warmup is that we want to finish the workout fast and move to the next task of the day. However, if you ask an athlete or a trainer, he/she will definitely tell you never to miss it. Of your 30 mins of workout, if you assign 3-5 minutes to warmup and cool down, it will really help improve your performance and reduce the risk for injury. As far as possible squeeze in some time for a quick warmup and cool down.
I know, that finding time to workout in itself is a challenging task, and then how can we accomodate this warmup and cool down? A little thought, planning and creativity can help you fit a warmup and a cool down in your exercise regime. I have seen many people walking or cycling to the gym and back. This can actually be a good warmup if done the right way. In all the above points you may have realized that warming up and cooling down is nothing but doing the main workout with either a gradual increase in intensity / pace or gradual decrease in intensity / pace. So frankly, each and every one of us is doing a warmup or a cool down already. It is just about doing it consciously and assigning a small portion of your workout to this category.
So the next time you decide to run, walk a bit, run and then walk again. Or if you decide to swim, swim slowly at first, then increase the pace and further reduce it. Similarly, at the gym, focus on your muscles that you are going to work on and begin with a slow intensity, moderate and then back to slow. This will actually help reduce your off days due to soreness and stiffness and finally, reduce the risk to injury.
Stay Fit! Stay Healthy