Would you like to increase your performance, decrease your soreness, recover faster between workouts and feel better during the rest of your day by doing 2 simple things every time you workout? Well look no further my friends, I have the answer for you! It is warming up and cooling down properly. Everyone in the fitness industry preaches about warming up and cooling down, but why?
In this blog, I’ll give you some reasons why it is so important, let’s get into it.
Benefits of Warming Up
There are many benefits to warming up, and nearly none, if any, negatives. They are as follows:
- Reduces risk of injury – Probably the most important benefit of warming up is the fact that the chances of soft tissue, ligamentous, or bony injuries is greatly reduced. The mechanism by which this occurs is a combination of all the other benefits I’ll mention.
- Raises core temperature – Everything moves faster when it’s hot, we know that to be fact. Same thing goes in your body. When you warmup properly, the bodily processes that help you to perform better are enhanced in part because your core temperature is increased.
- Lubricates joints – We’ve all woken up in the morning with sore, painful, achy joints. Warming up will help to lubricate the membranes around and inside your joints so that we can move through full ranges of motion without any “creakiness” or “crunchiness”. By nature, the joint capsule does not get much blood flow, so we need to prepare to move properly.
- “Primes” the central nervous system (CNS) – The CNS is composed of your brain and spinal cord. Our body has two main states; the “fight or flight” state, and the “rest and digest” state. When we exercise, our body enters the fight or flight state because it thinks we are in a life or death situation, we have not yet evolved to the extent that we now exercise for fun. Warming up transitions our CNS into the fight or flight state in a smooth, seamless way.
- Increases blood flow to working muscles – Working out requires energy and nutrients to be delivered and waste products to be removed from the muscles. This occurs via blood flow. If there isn’t a steady increase in blood flow prior to exercise, you may “hit the wall” very quickly because there is only a very limited supply of fuel stored inside your muscles.
- Increases range of motion into ranges you’ll be using during the workout – Some of us are very limited in our range of motion prior to warming up. If you are squatting during your workout, you need a requisite amount of mobility to get into the correct positions, which you may not have when you are going about your every day activities. Warming up helps to loosen up the muscles and joints so you can move well.
- Increases willingness to workout – We’ve all had those days where you just don’t feel like working out. Warming up bridges the gap between the exercising and not-exercising worlds and “gets the juices flowing”.
Benefits of Cooling Down
Similarly to warming up, cooling down has many benefits and nearly no disadvantages. They are:
- Reduces risk of injury – Exercise may produce increased tension in the muscles and joints, and cooling down helps to alleviate it and keeps everything running together smoothly. Including stretching in your cool down also increases flexibility in the long run.
- Decreases blood pooling in muscles and joints – As I stated earlier, blood flow is a key component of exercise. If one doesn’t cool down, blood may become “trapped” in the muscle, which can lead to swelling, pain, soreness, increased recovery time, even severe musculoskeletal conditions!
- Increases blood flow back to heart; flushing toxins and waste from working muscles – Going right along with my last point, cooling down delivers nutrients and flushes toxins out of the muscles so that the recovery process can begin sooner.
- Signals CNS to return back to homeostasis; back to “rest and digest” – As I mentioned above, warming up transitions our body properly to the fight or flight state. On the other side of the same coin, cooling down transitions our body back to the rest and digest state properly. Doing so will decrease overall stress to the body and aid in the recovery process.
- Decreases soreness – Decreased soreness is due to the points I’ve already made. However, it’s just one more reason to cool down! Exercising produces micro tears and inflammation in the muscle, which is the cause of soreness (NOT lactic acid like many people think). Cooling down helps to rid the inflammation and bring new nutrient rich blood into the muscles.
- Returns breathing back to normal – In conjunction with transitioning the CNS back to the rest and digest state, cooling down will help to return the hyperventilation state back to normal.
Warming Up: What To Do And Not To Do
- What To Do
- ~5 minutes general heart rate warmup – Cyclical (running, rowing, biking, jump rope, etc.)
- Foam rolling ONLY if you know specific areas you are limited in – Feeling “tight” in a specific area does not mean you need to foam roll that area. Only a registered/licensed practitioner can tell you WHY you are feeling tight and if you should perform mobility or stability work on the area. More to come on that in a future blog post.
- Dynamic stretching in all planes and movement patterns – Think up, down, across, side to side, twisting, turning, etc. Think single leg and single arm. Think squat, hinge, press, pull, lunge, jump, etc. Research Ido Portal for some great ideas.
- Specific movement pattern warmup for the day’s workout – If your workout has squat snatches and pullups, make sure you spend 5-10 minutes warming up those specific movement patterns and working up to the weights you’ll be using in a gradual and timely manner.
- What Not To Do
- Foam roll haphazardly without knowing WHY you are foam rolling that area – Again, this goes back to knowing WHY you feel tight.
- Passive stretching without knowing WHY you are stretching that area – Dynamic (with movement) stretching has been shown to be much more beneficial to performance and safety prior to a workout. It won’t decrease the muscle elasticity and will help you get into the correct ranges of motion for the day. If you are unable to get into the correct ROM, and a practitioner has advised you to passively stretch prior to a workout for safety reasons, then and only then is it advised to do so.
- Spending an hour or more warming up in general – Warming up doesn’t need to take more than 20 minutes max! If you warm up for an hour, chances are you are fatiguing your body too much prior to working out and/or decreasing your performance by becoming too “loose”.
Cooling Down: What To Do And Not To Do
- What To Do
- ~5 minutes general heart rate/breathing cool down – Cyclical once again. Breathing exercises can include box breathing, progressive muscular relaxation (PMR), meditation, etc.
- Foam rolling/passively stretching primary muscle groups used during the workout – Only now it is advised to foam roll areas that you have just used extensively in your workout without having a specific reason to do so. For example, roll your quads out after doing a lot of squatting.
- What Not To Do
- Don’t cool down 😉
I hope you now realize that warming up and cooling down properly can make your entire gym experience and life better. I would even argue that doing these two things should take priority over finishing your full training session if you are short on time! I’ll leave you with that statement…
Until next time!