Include a Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down to Maximize Workouts
Time spent preparing the body for hard work and then easing it back to normal should be a part of every visit to the gym.
Executing a good workout is like making a good meal—it takes adequate prep time, time to execute, and time to put get things back in proper order when completed. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to rush food to the table before its prepared, or to leave the dishes on the table when finished eating, going through a workout without a proper warm-up or ending it without a cool down can lead to an unfulfilling result.
What's common sense in the kitchen, however, doesn’t always translate to the gym, which is why so many who train hard need a reminder that warming up and cooling down should not be considered optional components of a workout.
A closer look at each aspect of a complete workout will help shed light on why they are important and how to make the most of the time spent preparing and recovering.
Getting the Body Started
A proper warm-up helps prepare the body for strenuous activity while also reducing the threat of injury. It also dilates the blood vessels, which ensures the muscles are getting enough oxygen to perform the workout effectively.
A good warm-up should include the entire body, even if the ensuing workout is going to focus on one area, such as legs or shoulders. The idea is to get the entire body warmed up and loose, and to get blood flowing to all areas.
Walking is an ideal way to start. From there, you can target specific muscles. A series of shoulder rolls, jumping jacks, and high-knee strides are good movements to follow up with.
To loosen the back, bring your hands and knees to the ground and arch your back to make the shape of a “C” (like a cat doing a big stretch). A good way to warm up the chest muscles is to link your fingers behind your back with your arms straight and gently lift.
At this point, you probably have done enough to feel warm and work up a light sweat. But not enough to use too much energy that would diminish your workout.
A (Slow) Return to Normalcy
A five- to 10-minute cool down, consisting of light aerobic activity, helps the heart gradually return to its resting rate and the body return to its resting temperature. The lack of a cool-down period can lead to lightheadedness and dizziness, which is caused by blood pooling in the lower extremities.
The worst thing to do is to plop down on a chair or sprawl out on the floor. The focus should be on staying in motion while gradually winding things down. Just as walking helps the body warm up before a workout, it can help the body cool down after a workout.
Stretching also should be a part of every cool down. Stretching is more beneficial after the workout than it is before because the muscles are warm and more pliable, which offers the best chance for maintaining and improving flexibility.
Static stretching, which involves holding the stretch for a comfortable period of time, is the best option. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, with a focus on breathing normally. Move slowly and smoothly into the stretch, avoiding bouncing or jerking the body into a particular position.
Stretching also helps reduce the buildup of lactic acid in the muscle, reducing the possibility of cramping, and can reduce any soreness that can occur in the days following a workout.
Yoga makes for a great workout on its own, but it also can be a part of a cool down. Along with stretching some taxed muscles it can serve as a calming element after a job well done.
Interested in learning more about the science behind a good workout? Explore the ISSA’s personal training course online. You’ll explore anatomy and physiology, effective programming, and the basic principles of nutrition. Plus, with your certification as a personal trainer, you’ll be prepared to help others achieve their goals in health and fitness.