The importance of warming up and cooling down

September 27, 2012

Exercise, Health, Injury

Muscles in their normal state are a little stiff; generally, the more sedentary the lifestyle, the stiffer they become.

by Scott White — 

Like any machine, the body needs to get ready for use. Before you race a car, you rev the engine and warm it up enough so that it performs at its best. Similarly, our bodies need warming up before any major physical exertion, be it work around the house/office, athletic events or a heavy workout.

Muscles in their normal state are a little stiff; generally, the more sedentary the lifestyle, the stiffer they become. In this condition, if the body is pushed into sudden heavy-duty exercise or exertion, the muscles can tear, resulting in very painful injuries. To prevent unnecessary damage, the muscles must be warmed up before any major exercise.

Numerous benefits can be attained from just 15 minutes of warm-up exercises. These include:

  • Reduced muscle stiffness and improved flexibility, resulting in better contraction and relaxation movements
  • Better oxygen absorption by the muscles
  • Higher muscle temperature, promoting better blood circulation
  • Increased heart rate, which supports heavier exercise
  • Increased metabolism, facilitating the energy production necessary for the real exercise that follows the warm-up

Recommended warm-ups include brisk walking, jogging, using a stair stepper or jogging in place for a duration of five to 10 minutes. Another good warm-up includes dynamic limb and body-stretching exercises. Special focus exercises that concentrate on the specific area(s) of the body to be exercised also can be helpful.

Cooling down means gradually bringing the body from a super active state back to its natural state. Tapering down the muscle movement before completely stopping the heavy workout helps the body better cope with the metabolic changes that occur following the workout.

Just as the warm-up exercises help the body plunge into heavy exercises, cool-down exercises help it return to its normal state.

Some important benefits from cool-down exercises include:

  • Lowered levels of adrenaline, the body’s “action” hormone
  • Prevention of sudden fainting that can occur when blood accumulates in the extremities as sudden exertion is stopped
  • Removal of waste products from the muscles, preventing muscle spasms and cramps
  • Tapering of the heartbeat to the standard rate in a systematic manner, preventing hyperventilation
  • Slowdown of the muscles to reduce the temperature of the body and muscle tissue

Recommended cool-down exercises include brisk walking, jogging or running in place for five to 20 minutes. Static stretching exercises for five to 10 minutes also are helpful.

It is very important for the body to gradually ramp up before the actual heavy workout begins and to gradually stop after the workout is over. Ignoring the warming up and cooling down processes can cause the body and muscles to suffer a great deal of unnecessary damage, both in the short run and long run.

 

Scott White is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist. 480-628-1607, swhite@personalpowertraining.net or www.personalpowertraining.net.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 3, June/July 2007.

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