Jumping directly into (or out of) a tough workout isn’t the best approach. Abruptly starting your workout can leave your brain and body craving a bit of transition time. Cooler weather and slippery conditions can also make you vulnerable to injury and fatigue immediately after your workout. So what are the smartest ways to start and end your workout? Here are the latest recommendations for warm up and cool down basics.
Warm-up activities should prepare your muscles and joints for the activity, as well as gradually increase your heart rate and mental focus. This helps you to avoid cramps, muscle pulls, and early exhaustion in your workout. Warm-up activities should be active, yet slower and easier than the heart of your workout. They should also increase your range of motion over your usual daily activities.
Great warm-up activities can include walking, running, or cycling at a slower pace than your intended workout. You can also include bodyweight strength training exercises such as squats, planks, lunges, and push-ups as a way of increasing the efficiency of your warm-up. Some athletes might want to include drills and dynamic stretches before a tough workout, such as those suggested in this Runners World article.
One thing to try to avoid in your warm up is static stretching, (i.e. those long held stretches you remember from your early gym classes.) These stretches are actually shown to decrease your performance during your workout and increase your risk of injury. Save them for other times, such as the cool-down.
Cool-down activities increase the range of motion of your contracted muscles and gradually return your cardiovascular system to its normal state. This will improve your recovery and return to your day, reduce your risk of injury, and allow you to improve your flexibility over time.
A good cool-down includes both cardiovascular and flexibility components. Three to five minutes of walking, easy jogging or cycling are all great ways to start your cool-down. After your heart rate and breathing have returned to comfortable levels, you can include some flexibility activities (such as those static stretches we discussed above). Stretching during your cool-down allows you to take advantage of already warm muscles to stretch more comfortably. It may also help you to avoid muscle cramps and soreness as you recover from your workout. When done consistently with your workouts, these stretches will improve your flexibility over time.
Cool-down stretches should target the hip flexors and rotators, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, shoulders, chest, and triceps. Hold each stretch, without bouncing, for 30-90 seconds for the best results, though any amount of stretching is better than none. For more on proper stretching and suggestions on ways to stretch each area of your body, check out this article from Men’s Health.
Sticking to a consistent warm-up and cool-down is an essential part of an exercise program and can provide a convenient time to improve your strength and flexibility. Enjoy these transitions into and out of your home workouts as you make this winter your healthiest yet!
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.