Recently, a fitness newcomer asked me why she couldn’t just go lift weights without warming up, and what exactly the purpose of cool down.was. To her, it just seemed like such a waste of time.
Often athletes forget the fitness basics such as warm up and cool down. We know they are important, but we want to get into the meat of our workout without wasting time. Unfortunately, most athletes don’t really understand that warm up and cool down are imperative for the well being of your body!
One of the most important reasons for warm up is to get your blood flowing to your muscles. Warm up literally means to get heat to your internal body and skeletal muscles in order to smoothly transition from resting to higher levels of effort. The best warm up is one that is as close to the upcoming exercise. So if you are running, walk; if you are cycling, cycle slowly; if you are swimming, swim slowly for about 5 to 10 minutes...you get the idea. The key is to get the sport-specific muscles warm so they will be more flexible and pliant.
Most athletes don’t realize that MOST injuries occur in the first six minutes of exercise. When athletes do not warm up, they do not allow the capillaries woven around cold muscles to open and become warm. Think of your body like a car...when you go out and start it up and take off at 60 miles per hour without warming up, what happens? The car usually doesn’t respond well and could require major repair work. Now think about when you let the car the warm up for a few minutes. Does it run better? Your body is the same way. When you warm up and get the blood to the muscles, they begin to warm up and work better then when you start off cold.
A lot of athletes will get to a ride or run and stretch as part of their warm up right before they work out. Stretching is GREAT and highly recommended for all athletes; however, when you stretch is very important. Various studies show that stretching after a five minute warm up is much more effective. Furthermore, the muscles are warmed up and are less likely to be strained or, even worse, torn.
Cool down is very important too. Just cooling down five minutes after lifting weights, running, cycling or swimming can get rid of some of that yucky lactic acid. If an athlete cools down correctly, there is less of a chance of the blood pooling in the extremities and causing dizziness or fainting. The purpose of cooling down is to return your body to normal, and it will not return to normal by stopping suddenly—just like warming up, the transition needs to be slow.
In short, even though warming up and cooling down may seem like a waste of time, your body will thank you for it later!
You can contact T3 Coach Jen Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resources: Thompson, Tommy. A Digest of Movement and Coaching Physiology, 3rd Edition. “Warm Up and Cool Down.” Sports Coach at www.brianmac.demon.co.uk/warmup.htm. “Warm-up and cool down.”, University of Iowa Health Care at www.uihealthcare.com/topics/exercisefitness/exer3118.html