Updated: Nov 15
In this article we will take a look at the reasons why we should warm-up and cool-down. In addition, you will discover a comprehensive range of warm-up and cool-down activities to try.
‘The combination of warming up and stretching has been shown . . . to actually reduce the incidence of injury.’
Christopher M. Norris
Regardless of how many times I see someone neglect to warm-up prior to exercise it never fails to astonish me. Why, I can’t help asking, why do they so flagrantly disregard such an important component of exercise? Why are they happy to put themselves at risk? Is it ignorance? Stupidity? The absence of understanding? Or were they poorly and inadequately introduced to exercise when they first embarked on the pursuit of improved fitness? Whatever the answer be the trainer who neglects the warm-up is putting themselves at risk.
'Conventional wisdom maintains that preliminary exercise helps the performer prepare either physiologically or psychologically and reduce the likelihood of joint and muscle injury.’
McArdle, Katch & Katch
What does the warm-up do for us? In short, a lot. An appropriate warm-up can enhance physical performance and prepare the body for exercise by bringing about a number of important physiological changes. These changes include raising core and muscle temperature, facilitating neuromuscular function and preparing the trainer psychologically (Watson 1995).
But of course the most important change here is the rise in muscle temperature. When muscles are warmer they become more flexible, supple and less susceptible to injury. It is for this reason and those previously mentioned why you must absolutely spend – at a MINIMUM – ten minutes warming up prior to engaging in exercise or sport.
Some more benefits of warming up
Increase in joint mobility
Increase in blood flow throughout the body
Increase in aerobic metabolism
Decrease in lactic acid production
Increases maximum power output
Orientates the trainer’s psychology to exercise
(List adapted from Watson’s – Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance – pp. 79/80)
Best types of warm-up activities
Rowing: because it activates the two major muscle groups
Cross-trainer: much for the same reason as the rower
Rowing interspersed with body weight and light resistance exercises
Remember: spend no fewer than ten minutes warming up. The intensity of the warm-up should gradually increase. Towards the end of your warm-up the intensity should peak. The warm-up should include exercises that feature in your main session; really it ought to mirror your main session.
Of course, it is little use spending your ten minute warm-up peddling away aimlessly on a stationary bike when your main sessions consists of an upper-body weights circuit. There has to be continuity between the warm-up and main session.
One simple way to ensure this is, after selecting which cardiovascular exercise you are going to warm-up on, throw in a few light sets of the exercises that you plan to do in your session. See example below:
The importance of cooling down
Much like the warm-up, the cool-down phase is often overlooked, omitted and/or ignored. Though perhaps not as important as the warm-up, cooling down post exercise plays a vital role in the self-rehabilitation, injury avoidance whole.
During intense activity oxidative metabolic waste builds up in and around the muscles. This unavoidable by-product is toxic and it impedes recovery. Studies have shown that a progressive cool-down, which we might also call active recovery, can speed the removal of metabolic waste thus allowing the body to begin the process of repair.
This is achieved because the cool-down ‘facilitates blood flow through the vascular circuit, including myocardial vessels’ thus speeding the removal of lactate from the blood. Furthermore, post-exercise active recovery has also been shown to encourage the removal of stress hormones (catecholamines) that are released during strenuous activity (McArdle et al 2001).
Best types of cool-down activities
Rowing: perhaps for the first half of the cool-down; for the second half you could progress on to a stationary bike or light jogging/walking
Cross-trainer interspersed with low intensity resistance activities
Remember: spend no fewer than 5 minutes cooling down. The cool-down can mirror the warm-up in reverse; that is: start off at an intensity close to the conclusion of your main session and then slowly deescalate the intensity and with it your pulse rate.
At its simplest walking on the treadmill or enjoying a gentle swim both could constitute as a cool-down. However, if you engaged in a rigorous training session, say HIIT, a tough circuit or an endurance competition, then you should dedicate perhaps as much as 10 minutes to cooling down ensuring, as you do so, to taper the intensity so that it eventually resembles the initial stage of your warm-up.
The stretching regime should follow the cool-down. Remember: a stretch does not qualify as a cool-down.
Before you enter your main session ensure to spend a minimum of 10 minutes warming up. The warm-up should be progressive and over the final two minutes the intensity should be at or close to the intensity of your main session. A good warm-up will include a cardiovascular element – such as rowing or the cross trainer (as the both stimulate the major muscle groups) – and exercises that feature in your main session.
On conclusion of you exercise session you should spend a minimum of 5 minutes cooling down. A simple cool-down – such as walking, a slow job, or swimming – for the vast majority of sessions will more than suffice. The intensity of the cool-down should more or less mirror that of the warm-up but in reverse.
Following your cool-down you could stretch. For more on stretching and a ten minute stretching plan follow the link The Benefits of Stretching.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., Katch, V. L (2001) Exercise Physiology Fifth Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. USA.
Norris. M. C (2004) Stretching. A & C Black. London.
Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.