The Importance of a Proper Warm Up and Cool Down
Why do you need to warm up?
Warming up is a very important step in preventing injuries and increasing your chances of achieving optimal performance. Warming up is just that – making your body warm, but through physical exertion. By the end of a warm up, you should feel like you have performed a very light workout, which usually involves some form of sweating as well as stretching.
You don’t want to shock the system by jumping right into your run or workout. Similarly, you don’t want to begin stretching before you are warm, as that may lead to injuries itself and may not have much benefit in terms of performance. In terms of stretching, one way to imagine it is to picture your muscles as a piece of gum. If you try and stretch a cold piece of gum, it will snap very easily (don’t worry, your muscles likely won’t “snap”). However, if you move the piece of gum around in your hands for a while warming it up, it will be able to stretch a long distance before it snaps.
A general guideline for warmups is that you want to gradually increase the intensity. For example, walking – light running on the spot, light running around a track, followed by stretching. For long distance running, either dynamic or static stretching can be performed, but if you are taking part in sprint/power events, it’s typically better to warm up with dynamic stretching instead of static stretching. The warm up usually doesn’t need to exceed 10-15 minutes.
Why do you need to cool down?
An active cool down has been increasingly recognized as being very important for optimal recovery and injury prevention. The main obstacle preventing most people from participating in an active cool down following their workout is just that – It’s following their workout. After an intense or long duration workout it can often be difficult to motivate yourself to do anything other than sit down, but your body will definitely thank you.
An active cool down does not have to be intense at all. It can be as simple as transitioning from a light run to a walk over the course of 5 minutes, followed by static stretching (e.g. sit-and-reach stretch for hamstrings). This allows your body to process the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles, which will aid in speedy recovery and also makes you feel way better. For example, if you have ever participated in a high-intensity workout that makes you feel like vomiting after, chances are you may be able to avoid that feeling through an active cool down, rather than simply lying down or standing still.
Generally speaking, the biggest step to proper warm ups and cool downs is simply being aware that it matters. You can play around with different styles, but as long as you’re moving and stretching before and after the workout, you’re already most of the way there!