Warming Up and Cooling Down....the Whys and Hows.

I recently had a client ask me about proper warm-ups and cool downs helping to relieve her muscle soreness. I was surprised by her question, not because of the content, but because in all my years training I think it was the first time anyone ever asked about the topic. Lot of clients ask about weight loss, or strength training, but never warming up or cooling down. In this latest post we will explore why warm-ups and cool downs are important for all fitness types, but also how to perform them properly to maximize performance.

THE WARM UP

Think of the warm-up as your "call-to-arms" to your body for the exercise "war" that is soon to be engaged. A good warm-up will allow you to gradually increase your body's temperature and blood flow from less vital areas of the body, such as the digestive system, to the muscles where it will be needed for exercise. The positive effects of a proper warm up include:

  • Decreased Risk of Injury to Muscles- warming up allows more blood flow to the muscles and increases their temperature as well. this makes the muscle more pliable and less prone to tearing injuries during weight training.

  • Less Risk of Joint Damage - Synovial fluid is the body's natural lubrication that is in our joints and allow for joint to move without friction. By warming up with a gradually increasing intensity we allow our body to produce and release more synovial fluid into our joints prior to exercise which will keep them lubricated and nourished throughout.

  • Increased Performance - Research suggests that performing a warm-up prior to exercise can increase the maximal amount of force your muscles can produce [1], more force can equal more weight trained with, better strength and neural adaptations, and overall increased performance.

  • Decreased Muscle Soreness - A study done by Olsen and Siohaug in 2012 concluded that "aerobic warm-up exercise performed prior to resistance exercise may prevent muscle soreness" [2].

THE COOL DOWN

The cool-down is meant to be performed post exercise. The primary purpose of cooling down is to not "shock" the body by just immediately ceasing all activity, rather letting it gradually come back to a state of rest. The cool down serves to:Prec

  • Prevent Blood Pooling- cooling down allows for the body's natural blood pumps in the legs to return back to the heart rather than gather in the lower extremities.

  • Gradually Reduce the Heart Rate - again it is important to allow the body to gradually return to that resting state.

  • Preventing Fainting - reducing the blood pooling in the lower extremities will allow it to continue being provided to the brain keeping oxygen levels up

  • Reduces Blood Lactic Acid Level - which can help to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.

HOW TO PROPERLY WARM-UP & COOL DOWN

There are two types of warm-up to be considered; general vs. specific. General warm-ups are just meant to raise the body temperature and loosen the muscles where as Specific warm-ups are, as the name suggests, specific to an activity. They are meant to prime your neuromuscular system for the specific tasks that are to come. For instance performing 1-2 light warm-up sets of a bench press prior to going into a heavier weight will increase the motor unit recruitment allowing your lifts to be stronger.

Depending on who you are, what your fitness goals are, and the intensity with which you plan on working out, your warm-up may vary. Here are some example warm-ups you can try:

  • Treadmill walking gradually increasing the incline and speed for 10-15 minutes

  • Recumbent or upright bicycle gradually increasing the level of intensity 10-15 minutes

After this warm-up you want to do some light stretching, 10-15 seconds per muscle will suffice, but intense stretching prior to your workout as this can decrease performance and increase risk of injury. [3]

A good cool down will be similar to the warm-up exercise, but for only 5-10 minutes and also should include your intense stretching. This is when your muscles are most pliable and willing to stretch. Stretching post-weight training will allow your muscles to restore the length lost with weight training, increase blood flow, and buffer the lactic acid out of the muscle allowing them to heal faster.

So next time instead of doing an hour and a half of weights give yourself some time to do a proper warm-up and cool down as well. Your muscles and your progress will thank you. -Aaron

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