By Jena Mays
Finding time to work out is a challenge for many of us. So it’s hardly surprising that when we do get to the gym, we’re eager to dive right in and start sweating. Whether you are hoping to benefit from a plyometric workout or something else, there are some good reasons to slow down, warm up, and ease into the workout. There are also definite benefits to taking a few minutes at the end of the workout to cool down.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of the warm-up and cool-down before and after a workout. I’ll also provide some warm-up and cool-down suggestions.
Why You Should Warm Up Before a Workout
Warming up before you launch into your workout is the best thing you can do to ensure you walk out of the gym having completed another great workout. But it also goes hand-in-hand with a number of other variables. Each of these things need to be on point, including:
- Pre-workout nutrition
- Exercise selection
- Training volume
Once you’re on point with these other variables, you owe it to yourself to take a few minutes to take your body from a sedentary to an active state. Here are the key benefits of warming up before exercise.
Increased Body Temperature
As its name indicates, a key purpose of a warm-up is to increase your core body temperature. As the temperature of your muscles goes up, oxygen delivery to the cells will increase as blood circulation increases. This will allow the muscles to contract and relax.
Faster oxygen delivery will also produce energy production. The increased blood circulation that results from increased body temperature also speeds up the supply of nutrients to the muscle cell.
When you warm up, you improve the elasticity of your muscles. As a result, your chances of pulling a muscle will be reduced. A gentle warm-up will also lubricate the joints to allow for ease of movement.
The increased blood flow that comes from warming up will also speed up the removal of waste products that are produced during your workout.
To perform optimally, you need to move your muscles through their full range of movement. Performing a dynamic stretching routine before launching into the workout will help relieve tired muscles and allow your muscles to effortlessly move through their entire range.
You should not, however, do static stretching before your workout. This has been shown to potentially inhibit strength and increase injury risk. Leave your static stretching until after the workout.
Warming up allows you to get your mind in the game. Those few minutes provide you with the time to focus on the reason that you’re working out, to zero in on the goals for this specific workout, and to summon the mental intensity to give your best.
If you’re working out at home, you can also use your home gym essentials in the warm-up and the cooldown to optimize your experience.
How to Warm Up Properly
You should allow 5–10 minutes prior to your workout for your warm-up. It should involve both a cardio and a muscular component. Begin with 5 minutes of light cardio. This could involve jogging on the spot, skipping, walking, cycling, or going lightly on a rowing machine. Move your muscles in an exaggerated manner to move them through their full range of motion.
Once you’ve completed your light cardio warm-up, do some dynamic stretching moves. Dynamic stretching involves moving a muscle or joint through its full range of motion for multiple repetitions. Examples are doing arm windmills for the shoulder muscles and joints, swinging one knee up as high as possible and then kicking it back behind you to warm up the glutes, and bringing your arms across your body to contract the pectoral and then opening them back up again.
Why You Should Cool Down After a Workout
Cooling down at the end of the workout involves taking a few minutes to transition from a working state back to a sedentary state. It may involve gradually easing down the intensity of your cardio workout to mirror the cardio warm-up that you did at the start of the workout.
Cooling down allows your pulse and your rate of breathing to return to their pre-exercise levels. This will help you avoid such side-effects as headache or dizziness that can occur if you go from a state of high intensity to a sedentary state without any transition period. That’s because blood can pool in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes when you stop exercising suddenly.
How to Cool Down Properly
There are two parts to an effective cool-down: low-intensity cardio for 5 minutes, followed by static stretching for the muscles that have been activated in the workout.
If the last part of your workout involves cardio exercise, build a cool-down in by gradually reducing your speed and intensity over the last five minutes. If not, do a similar finishing exercise as you did during the warm-up, at a similar low level of intensity.
Once you have completed the cardio warm-down, do some static stretching exercises. This will help the muscles relax while also improving their flexibility. Stretch each muscle for 20–30 seconds, repeating it two or three times.
I also recommend doing some foam rolling after your workout. This will allow you to provide a gentle massage to the worked muscles and to target any trigger points of muscle pain. Check out the Trigger foam roller, which is our top pick for post-workout self-massage.
Warming up and cooling down are important, but often overlooked, parts of the workout. By making the effort to do them, however, you will be setting yourself up for a safer, more productive workout, and help you avoid discomfort after the workout. Follow the guidelines provided to build these important bookends into your workout routine.
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