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Include a Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down to Maximize Workouts

Include a Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down to Maximize Workouts

Reading Time: 5 minutes


DATE: 2023-04-18

A lot of people skip their warm-up or cool down occasionally. The extra time it takes to do these steps properly adds up. It’s tempting to leave them out when time is of the essence. 

Don’t make this mistake, for yourself or your personal training clients. A thoughtful warm-up session and cool down before and after a workout is essential. We’ll explain why here and describe how to do it right for the best results. 

Why is Warming Up and Cooling Down So Important? 

Warming up before exercising gets your body ready for what it’s about to do. Cooling down after a workout eases and promotes recovery. These are the basics of why they are essential. More specifically, here is why you should always warm up before exercise: 

  • A warm-up is preparation for exercise. It gets your body ready to do movements that can be intense or difficult. 

  • Warming up dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to muscles. Warmed-up muscles are more flexible and efficient. This reduces the risk of muscle injuries.

  • A gradual increase in heart rate minimizes the stress you put on your heart getting into an exercise. 

  • A proper warm-up slowly increases mobility in the joints to ease them into movements, reducing injury risks. 

  • Warming up elevates body temperature, which helps muscles activate more quickly. 

  • All of these work together to improve performance and reduce injury risk. 

There are also many benefits of doing a proper cool down after a workout: 

  • A cool down is the starting point of your post-workout recovery. It eases your heart rate and body temperature back to normal. 

  • One way that cooling down helps you recover is by giving your body time to clear out lactic acid that build up during exercise. 

  • Stopping exercise too suddenly can make you lightheaded. 

  • A proper cool down might reduce the incidence and severity of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but the research on this is mixed. 

For your clients who are new to working out, share these beginner exercise tips

How to Do a Proper Warm-Up

An effective warm-up should be thoughtful and not rushed. Take time to consider the activity you’ll be doing and the types of movement, intensity, and duration before determining how to warm up. 

In general, a good warm-up should mimic the movements you will be doing during the exercise but at a lower intensity. Remember that you are easing your heart rate and body temperature up while also engaging the muscles and joints you’ll be activating in the workout. 

Basic Cardio Warm-Ups

For many cardio workouts, warming up is simple. Here are some examples: 

  • Walk slowly for five to ten minutes before going for a brisk walk. 

  • Walk briskly for five to ten minutes before running either outside or on a treadmill. 

  • Cycle slowly for ten minutes on flat terrain before doing a cycling workout. 

  • Swim slowly for ten minutes before swimming laps. 

The idea is to engage in the activity at a low intensity for a short period of time before ramping it up. Your heart rate should begin to elevate a little, and you should just start to sweat during a warm-up.

Sport-Specific Warm-Up

If your workout is going to be a little more complicated than a basic cardio routine, your warm-up should reflect that complexity. For instance, if you are warming up for circuit training, a fitness class like Zumba, or a sport like tennis or basketball, you need more movement variety in your warm-up. 

Consider the types of movements you’ll be doing and mimic those at a lower intensity. Before a tennis match, do arm swings to warm up the shoulders and side lunges to mimic the way you’ll be jumping around for the ball. 

For the most complicated activities with a full range of movements, consider all the joints involved and various planes of movement. Before basketball, for instance, get your shoulder, hip, and knee joints moving. Do movements that take you forward, backward, and side-to-side. 

Dynamic Stretching

Static stretching is a classic warm-up move that we now know is not very effective. A better option is to add some dynamic stretching before a workout or athletic activity. A dynamic stretch is a moving stretch. Rather than holding a stretch for a period of time, you move through it. 

Examples of dynamic stretches include walking lunges, leg swings, arm circles, and trunk twists. Use the kinds of dynamic stretches that mimic your upcoming workout. 

According to research, dynamic stretching can improve your performance when done before an athletic activity or sport (1). These stretches are worth including. 

Warm-ups geared toward specific activities are the best. Here are some warm-up exercises for the increasingly popular sport of pickleball. 

How to Do a Proper Cool Down

Cooling down is less technical than warming up. The main goal is to get your heart rate and body temperature down to normal more gradually than simply stopping. Without this gentle transition, your blood pressure can drop quickly and make you lightheaded. In extreme cases, you might fall or even pass out. 

When doing a cardio workout, the easiest way to cool down is to simply dial back the intensity. If you’re running, walk for the last ten minutes. If you are playing tennis, walk around the court gently swinging your arms after a match. Light dynamic stretching that covers most of the major muscle groups is also a good way to cool down. 

You might want to stretch after your workout as part of the cool down, but this isn’t essential. It is a good time to get an effective stretch because your muscles and joints are warm and loose. If you want to improve flexibility, this is the time for deep static stretches. 

How to Do a Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down for Strength Training

Warming up and cooling down for strength training sessions is as important as doing so for a cardio workout. An appropriate warm-up is particularly important. 

You can do a little light cardio to get your heart rate up as you would for cardio, but also target the specific muscles and movements you’ll be doing in the workout. Go through some of the movements without weights to get started. Also include some dynamic stretches and spend time moving each joint. 

As with cardio, cooling down after strength training will ease your body back to normal. Gentle cardio for about ten minutes is a great way to do this. Hit the treadmill for a slow jog after an intense session or a walk after a less intense workout. Static stretches will also help you cool down and improve flexibility at the same time. 

If you are a personal trainer, be a good example for your clients and make time for proper warm-ups and cool-downs. And then educate your clients about why these sessions are important and how to do them effectively. 

This is the kind of foundational fitness knowledge you get from the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer Program. The certification course is exactly what you need to be qualified to train clients safely and effectively. 

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  1. Opplert, J., & Babault, N. (2018). Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching on Muscle Flexibility and Performance: An Analysis of the Current Literature. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(2), 299–325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0797-9

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