Warm Up and Cool Down Exercises

Karen Frazier
before workout stretch

Warm up and cool down exercises play a number of important roles in your overall fitness routine. While it may seem as if you'd be better served taking the time you normally spend doing warm ups and cool down exercises and replacing it with high intensity exercise, doing so can lead to any number of problems that might derail you from your fitness goals.

Benefits to Warm Up Exercises

The first five to ten minutes of every exercise session - including participation in sports - should consist of a warm up. Warming up prior to exercise allows your body functions to get into exercise mode, by allowing body temperature to rise, your blood flow to increase and your respiration to increase. A proper warm up actually helps to increase the effectiveness of your workout while decreasing your potential for injury to cold muscles jolted into sudden activity.

  • Your overall body temperature increases: which leads to improved muscle flexibility and a decrease in the risk of strain, sprain and pulls.
  • Blood flow increases to your muscles: This allows your muscles to fuller, more powerful contraction and quicker relaxation, which can lead to improved performance.
  • You breathe faster: Increased oxygen availability leads to better performance and muscle endurance.
  • Your blood flows more freely. This is due to the dilation of blood vessels. This prepares your heart for harder work and reduces stress on your cardiovascular system.
  • Your range of motion increases: leading to better performance and reduced risk of injury.
  • Your digestive system wakes up: Your energy regulation system is kicked into gear. A warm up prepares your body to supply the necessary energy to get through your workout.

How to Warm Up

A warm up can be any type of gradually increasing cardiovascular exercise. For example, if you are about to jog, start with a moderately paced walk that gradually speeds up for about five minutes until you are at a full run. Many exercise machines have a warm up phase built into their pre-programmed workouts. Other types of warm ups:

  • Start with light calisthenics like jumping jacks that increase in intensity.
  • Jog in place for a few minutes prior to your workout.
  • If you are warming up prior to a sport, spend a few minutes either lightly going through the motions of the sport, or doing light play at about 50% of your maximum effort, increasing.
  • Stretching can be used as a warm up provided you are not stretching cold muscles.

Cool Down After Exercise

Cooling down post exercise is as important as a proper pre-exercise warm up. It is essential to assist your body in post exercise recovery by bringing it back to your pre-workout state. Some of the physiological changes that take place during a cool down include:

  • Your heart rate and respiration return to normal slowly, which can reduce the stress on your body.
  • The toxins that have built up in your body as a result of the stress that occurred during exercise can be flushed away during a proper cool down. This reduces the incidence of post-exercise soreness.
  • Suddenly stopping exercise without a cool down can lead to blood pooling. Essentially, what happens with blood pooling is that the waste products of exercise stay in the muscles instead of being flushed out with a proper cool down. Blood pooling can lead to pain and swelling.
  • Blood circulation returns to normal during a cool down. This allows the oxygen to return to the blood, where it can be carried to the muscles, tendons and ligaments, which need it for growth and repair.

How to Cool Down

In many ways, your cool down will be a reversal of your warm up. Cool down should last about five to ten minutes and consist of gradually decreasing physical activity that allows your respiration and heart rate to return to near normal levels. This can be accomplished by lowering the intensity of your exercise gradually until you feel heart rate and respiration return to normal.

Also included in a proper cool down is stretching. Once the heart rate has returned to normal, every major muscle group should be stretched in order to prevent the muscles from tightening up and contribute to overall flexibility.

Finally, no proper cool down is complete without rehydrating and refueling in order to replenish water, nutrients and minerals lost in the workout process. This can be done with water and a light meal, or a low sugar electrolyte drink.

Build in the Extra Time

Properly warming up prior to exercise and cooling down after a workout is an important part of your fitness routine. Be sure to build in time to perform these important steps in order to maximize the value you gain from your workout.

Warm Up and Cool Down Exercises