Why is warming up and cooling down so important?

Benefits of warming up and cooling down

I’ve been exercising a little more recently and one thing I have noticed is that I am really seeing a difference in my ability to recover.  I was thinking about this and wondering what have I been doing differently? and then I realised I was actually taking the time to warm up and cool down properly.  I would normally rush through these elements of training as I short on time however taking the extra few minutes at the start and end of a session really is paying dividends.  So why is warming up and cooling down so important?

Warming up  before your workout is important for many reasons. A good warm up will gradually increase your heart rate, increase circulation to your muscles, tendons and ligaments, and mentally prepare you for your exercise session.  Although warm ups and stretching generally occur in the beginning of a workout session, they are two different concepts.

Warming Up to Increase Blood Circulation

rugby warming upWhen you give your body 5 to 10 minutes of a good warm up, through dynamic movements, walking or jogging in place for example, you gradually increase blood circulation throughout your muscles, tendons and ligaments.  You can compare it to driving your car in freezing cold weather. It is generally best to allow your car to warm up a bit and to make sure it is well oiled. The same principle applies when you work out. You want to physically prepare your body for the demands of a strenuous workout by gradually increasing your body temperature.  You give the different aspects of your physiology a chance to prepare to work together. Your heart rate increases gradually, your muscles warm which helps to prevent injury, your ligaments and tendons become more flexible, reducing the chance of tears.

Warming Up is also a form of Mental Preparation

Warming up is also important as it is a form of mental preparation.  You need to focus your mind to ease into the workout.  This isn’t only helpful if you are taking part in light exercise but is especially helpful if you engage in strenuous forms of exercise such as hill climbing, high speed cycling, long distance running or lifting heavy weights.  Your body experiences a great deal of stress during these types of activities, so an adequate warm up will mentally prepare you to increase your chances of pushing through the hardest part of your training session.

The Difference Between Warming Up Exercises and Stretching

stretchingEven though warm up exercises and stretching often occur simultaneously in exercise classes, they are two difference principles.  Both are important for an effective workout.  During warming up exercises, you are increasing your body temperature and slowly preparing your body for what is to come.  When stretching, you are focusing specifically on stretching and manipulating your muscle tissue.

As mentioned, your muscles need warmth to work optimally so it can be ineffective if someone starts stretching without first raising their body temperature which could lead to injury.  Another example is when an individual warms up but skips stretching, which can also lead to injury.

It is a good idea that when stretching your muscles you concentrate on preparing the muscle groups that will be dominant in the forthcoming session.  It is inadvisable to stretch your upper body and not your lower body if you are going to undertake a predominately lower body focused session.

Cooling down to reduce heart rate

Cooling down after an intense workout is very important.  It allows your body to gradually reduce your heart rate.  By gradually reducing your heart rate you are allowing your blood pressure and circulation to normalise, if you do not do this it can sometimes lead to dizziness and sickness.  You also allow your breathing to resume to normal which is important for EPOC (Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption).

Cool Down to Reduce Muscle Soreness

cooling downCooling down also helps to reduce muscle soreness after a workout and help prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). When you exercise lactic acid builds up in your muscles.  Cooling down properly will help push the lactic acid and other unwanted substances out of the muscles.  This helps to reduce muscle soreness after your workout and assists with the repair and growth of your muscles.

When cooling down, make sure that your activity is much less strenuous than the bulk of your workout. For example if you run, then walk quickly during your cool down. If you were cycling uphill, cool down by biking on flat road.

Your Training Session

An effective workout should consist of a solid warm up, some stretching, a more intense section increasing the heart rate and a cool down period, which should include more stretching.  When you take the time to undertake each of these workout elements, you will have fewer injuries and increase your post workout recovery enabling you to train again more effectively sooner.




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