The importance of warm-up and cool-down routines in a fitness regimen or sport is well understood, one would like to assume. Think again, though. In a typical gym or park setting, we would invariably see many hitting the machines, the chin-up bar or lifting weights without basic muscle activation. It is a clear case of awareness not translating into practice.
People should never miss warming up or cooling down, reiterate experts, listing out the benefits of these two essentials. Walking a few minutes around the park or on a treadmill is not considered muscle activation or a warm-up, by the way.
To start with, the ill effects of skipping warm-up or cool-down may not be evident immediately. However, over time, the muscles, tendons and joints will start feeling the strain due to taking load without being prepared or recovering properly. If you want to have a long-term, injury-free fitness journey, warm-up and cool-down routines should become important components of your training sessions.
Importance of warm-up
Warm-up refers to a series of movements done to make the body ready for exercises. It is important for getting the bones, heart and muscles ready. In addition, it also brings in flexibility and improves the range of motion of the joints and muscles.
“There are chances of injuries if one skips the warm-ups,” says Tanuja Panda, a fitness instructor from Bangalore. “It is done to increase the heart rate and blood flow. If warm-up is skipped, the ability to exercise efficiently reduces, and the chances of injury increase.”
In addition to the overall preparation of the body, a warm-up can also include preparing or activating a specific part of the body. It ensures that the body temperature, speed and range of movement increase. Warming up also increases blood circulation, which in turn improves the flow of oxygen to the muscles. It produces an adrenaline rush, which pumps one up for the workout session.
“Not warming up properly can affect heart and lung health,” says Sinoj VP, master fitness trainer at the Rejuvenation Fitness Group in New Delhi. “Doing high-intensity exercises without warming up can put pressure on the body, which in turn reacts to compensate for the high load we are putting on it. This strains the heart and lungs. It is advised to let the body know that you’re going to do something so that it is ready to cope with it.”
How to warm-up
While warming up, the focus should be on stretching the whole body (from neck to toe), mild cardio to fire up the cardiovascular system and muscle activation. Dynamic stretching is prescribed for warm-ups, as dynamic movements activate and charge the body, making it ready to bear the load. A dynamic warm-up includes movements that focus on hip, wrist, ankle and knee mobility.
A cardio session can include brisk walking, skipping, jogging or running. Specific muscle activation for lifting weights can be done by starting with a lighter weight and more repetitions to get the muscles ready. Panda explains the flow of warm-up exercises: cardio, whole-body warm-up and specific warm-up.
Walking or jogging for five minutes helps activate the cardiovascular system, increasing the heart rate and blood flow. Then comes warming up the whole body for five minutes, which can include circular movements of the arms, hips, wrists, elbows, knees, neck and squatting without weights. This is followed by warming up specific parts of the body that will be targeted during the workout session. It is based on movement to get the muscle groups, tendons and joints in the region ready. For instance, if you are focusing on legs, you will do squats without weights as a specific warm-up.
Importance of cool-down
The body becomes very active during the workout. It experiences a lot of wear and tear along with the breakdown of muscle fibers. The heart rate also increases along with the blood flow. Cool-down exercises help bring the body back to the pre-workout state.
“The body needs to be relaxed after a workout. That’s when cool-down comes into play,” adds Sinoj. “It lowers the heart rate to normal, relaxes the muscles and brings down the lactic acid formed during exercise.”
Cooling down relaxes and calms the body from top to bottom. When the person exercises the next day, they are free from stiffness or injuries and perform better. “Suppose you have made the wrong movement while exercising, which caused discomfort. That discomfort can be taken care of during the cool-down stage,” explains Panda.
Stretching the muscles helps reduce pain. Suppose you worked out your legs; the glutes and thighs will invariably be sore, stiff or hurting. Stretching the legs after the workout relaxes them and relieves the pain.
How to cool-down after a workout
Static stretches and breathing exercises are recommended while cooling down, which should be done for 7–10 minutes.
Static stretches refer to those where a single position (sitting or standing) is held for a few seconds. Some common cool-down exercises include cat-cow stretch, butterfly stretch, toe stretches and calf stretches.
- Warm-up and cool-down are important aspects of a workout session.
- A warm-up session should include mild cardio, whole-body stretches, specific-body stretches and muscle activation. This helps increase blood supply and prepares the body for exercise.
- Cool-down exercises relax the muscles and help relieve pain. They bring the blood supply and heart rate back to normal.
- One can incorporate static stretches and breathing exercises into the cool-down routine.