Ensuring you never miss your warm up and cool down
Published Monday, February 15, 2016 6:30AM EST
Time is always tight, so it can be so temping to skip two very important elements of your workout - the warm up and the cool down!
Before you jump into your next game or bolt from your exercise class before the stretch, you may want to remember the value they bring to your workout and your health.
There are so many things that happen in a warm up but they often get overlooked. Here are 3 main categories with some of the best reasons NOT to skip your warm up.
1. Literally warming the body up
A proper warm up increases function and efficiency for a number of aspects of your physiology.
- Elevates the heart rate and increases your core temperature - delivering more blood and oxygen to working muscles.
- Increases muscle temperature - which improves range of motion and decreases risk of strain.
- Blood vessels dilate - which reduces resistance to the increased blood flow which lowers stress on the heart.
- Synovial fluid - becomes thinner when warm to better lubricate joints.
- Improves cooling - by activating mechanisms that allow your body to sweat and avoid overheating.
- Improved hormone function - increased production of hormones that makes carbohydrates and fatty acids available for energy.
2. Rehearsal of movement patterns
The warm up is an ideal time to mimic the movements involved in your workout or sport to improve neuromuscular patterns. This also provides the opportunity to work on dynamic range of motion around the specific joints you will be using.
3. Mental preparation
This isn't just important for athletes. If you've had a hectic day at home, the office or at school, it's the ideal opportunity to redirect your energy. This will allow you to be "in the moment" so that you can focus on form, be aware and avoid injury and - very importantly - have fun!
So what's a proper warm up?
It can be confusing as it's changed over the past couple of decades now that we understand more things about physiology and exercise. Here's a breakdown using the FITT principle.
Frequency: This one's easy. You really need to warm up every time you do activity. This doesn't mean doing a 7th inning stretch in the middle of the golf course or the gym. Your warm up be far more subtle than as can often be a lower intensity version of your activity.
Intensity: Here's the key. A warm up should be light to moderate intensity so that it elevates your core temperature, heart rate, etc. from a resting state but not so shocking that your body and muscles react against it! You can measure this using a few methods. If using a heart rate monitor or check, a warm up range is from 55-75% of your maximum heart rate (220-age). This is a very general guideline and remember that your heart rate is affected by so many other variables including sleep, caffeine, food. A very effective option is the modified Borg Scale from 1-10. Resting ranges from 1-3, warming up would range from 3-5 and workout intensity could range from 5-9. See my website for more information on using a Borg Scale.
Time: This often causes confusion as it can be very specific to both the person and the workout. General guidelines recommend 8-12 minutes for a warm up based on a 60-minute workout. You may want to extend your warm up beyond 12 minutes if:
- it's an intense workout - the more intense, the longer the warm up.
- you are just starting out.
- you have limited range of motion related to injury or age.
- you are new to a particular activity.
- the temperature is particularly cold.
Type: Often the exercises in the warm up are multi-tasking, addressing the physiology, muscle recruitment and mental preparation at the same time.
- light to moderate cardiovascular activity - make it specific to the activity so that you're also working on muscle recruitment and rehearsal. For example, light jog before you run; light biking before you intense speed or hills.
- dynamic range of motion vs. static stretches - these are rhythmic movement patterns. For example, circling arms before you throw; lifting knees before you step.
- too intense, too quickly
- static or ballistic stretching
Proper Cool Downs
Cooling down is almost the reverse of the warm up process. This often gets skipped to save time or because people don't see the value. It can be as important as the workout, however, because it does gradually reduce core and muscle temperature and ease the body back into a resting or recovery state.
- Prevents blood pooling - resulting from dramatic changes in intensity
- Prevents DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness
- Increases efficiency of exercise - muscle are most efficient in their elongated state
- Improves posture - posture is negatively impacted by muscle and flexibility imbalance
- Improves flexibility - this is the optimal flexibility gains when the body is warm
- Injury preventing - this is the time to restore range and function
- Mental recovery - for athletes and all exercisers
Intensity: Gradually reduce the heart rate and then shift into more a more stationary state to focus on stretching.
Time: You should spend about 8-12 minutes again, but like the warm up that is impacted by the intensity of the workout and you.
Type: Again, like the warm up, your cool down to reduce core temperature can be a lighter intensity of the activity. When it comes to stretching though, here are few tips:
- stretch from head to toe or toe to head
- spend MORE time on specific muscles used during activity
- hold stretches for 20-30 seconds
- focus on balancing posture - particularly for one-side dominant activities (like golf, gardening, tennis, etc.)
Warming up and cooling down are absolutely as important as the intense part of your workout or the "play' portion of a game or recreational activity. You may not want to break into a step touch before your run or tennis game, but take about 10 minute (or so) to start light and gradually increase your intensity. Then after, reverse the process to cool down and stretch. Multi-task here as well and use that time for some socializing or to mentally prep for the next step in your day.
For more information on Borg Scale or to find warm up and cool down ideas and options, click here.
If you have a specific question we'd love to hear from you at www.libbynorris.com. We also have a quick survey to find out your biggest challenges to help plan workouts and support for our upcoming team activity challenge with trackers!