Hey Angels and Alphas,
Now, you probably already know how important warm-up and cool-down routines are. They help us prevent injury, stay on top of our game, and reduce the negative drawbacks of intense exercise such as soreness and stiffness.
They’re basically the two doors to a powerful, productive workout – one on the way in and one on the way out. That being said, a lot of people still experience problems with these routines. Not only do people spend less time on these routines than they should, but they’re also really confused as to how to do them correctly!
Today, we’re here to answer these questions and settle it once and for all – what are these routines all about, how should they look for you, and why should you invest the time and energy to make them a habit?
Let’s get started.
Welcome to warm-up 101.
The goal of a warmup is to get you and your muscles prepared for the exercises you’re going to do that workout. In this case, this means warming up your body temperature so blood can easily flow to the muscles that you’re using and distribute energy properly.
Naturally, your warm-up should be adjusted to prepare you for exactly what you’re about to see or do – soccer players warm-up every point of their legs and core, basketball players warm-up their shoulders and arms, and gym-goers warm-up the muscles that they’re about to use.
Warmups put your body out of that inactive, lying-in-bed state and put you in a state of preparedness. If you’re forcing your stiff, cold muscles, joints, and tendons to take loads that they’re not expecting, you’re taking a huge risk. Most injuries in the gym happen because we weren’t prepared for whatever we tried to do.
Here’s what all of them have in common – warm-ups are all dynamic! You should constantly aim to be in motion, moving, and getting your heart rate up to the point where you’re ready to get into intense or heavy exercises.
A lot of people make the mistake to include static stretching in their warm-up routine, which only ends up backfiring most of the time. Static stretching prior to your workout will diminish your strength, and that’s very counterproductive to the exercise routine of a weightlifter, for example.
Okay, so what *does* a warm-up include?
Here are the golden rule pointers:
- Constant low-intensity cardiovascular activity such as walking, jogging, or light biking.
- Dynamic stretching – for example, a series of lunges, jumping jacks, toe touches, windmills, trunk twists, and so on. (Essentially, dynamic stretches are stretches that go from and to a certain point without particularly holding a given stretch. Their sole purpose is to get the body pumped and moving.)
- Doing every exercise you’re about to do that day for one set with little-to-no weight.
- Gradually diving into your workout while starting slowly and steadily increasing intensity.
If you follow this, may we say, anatomy of the perfect warm-up, you’ll have no trouble preparing your body for your workout effectively and reaping the benefits such as more strength, more endurance, and loosened, explosive, ready-to-go muscles.
Your warm-up should ideally consist of 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio backed by a series of dynamic stretches, followed by five minutes of doing no-weight movements and gradually starting to put on weight.
Keep in mind that, even though you can create and follow this universal warm-up model, the more intense you plan your workout to be, the longer and more in-depth your warm-up should be.
Warm-ups that incorporate dynamic stretching exercises often include the side shuffles, hip openers, leg swings, as well as the exercises we mentioned above.
Let’s talk about cool-downs!
After you’ve completed your workout and you’ve put your body through a real challenge, your cool-down routine will be your saving grace from soreness, stiffness, and pain.
The bad news is, most people tend to ignore it! I know, I know, the last thing you want to do after an intense workout is to spend another 10-15 minutes doing ouch-inducing (but actually really relaxing) stretching.
But what you need to realize is that your cool-down will gradually slow down your heart rate, relax you and your muscles, and help you stretch out the stiffness that’s just waiting to settle in.
Cool-down routines always include some type of motion before you get to static stretching, especially if you were just lifting heavy. Static stretching, as we all know, drastically improves our flexibility and performance, but it’s also great for injury prevention.
As with a warm-up, what cool-down exercises you choose depends solely on what you were doing before that. If you just ran half a dozen miles, you might take a few moments to shake off and walk around before you begin stretching. The key is in alleviating every muscle group you worked on during your workout.
Here are my guidelines for a cool cool-down:
- Don’t just stop whatever you’re doing in the gym after you’re done. Instead, gradually slow your pace and the intensity of your exercise. So, if you’re running, start reducing your speed until you’re at a jogging intensity and walk a few minutes before stopping.
- Stretch out your muscles with static stretches. Static stretches are stretches in which you reach and hold a position (like a lunge) for an extended period of time. Hold whatever stretch you’re doing for at least 20-30 seconds so your body can overcome its stretch reflex.
- Breathe deeply through every stretch you do.
I know what you’re going to say. “I don’t have time to do a cool-down!”
But please realize, cooling down is not something you should (or want to) skip. It will skyrocket your athleticism if you haven’t done it until now, and it’s just so relaxing! Everyone could use a good stretch once in a while, even more so if you’re training 4-5 days a week!
Examples of static stretches: the hamstring stretch, the posterior capsule stretch, the quad stretch, and the long lunge.
Remember: Exercise breaks down muscle tissues. The time you spend recovering is the time when they adapt and rebuild to become stronger. If you keep hitting the same muscles every day, you’re not giving them the opportunity to recover and rebuild.
Cool-down routines help you improve that recovery, but you still need to space out your workouts to allow your body enough time to rest. That being said, why *would* anyone who is serious about training miss them?
I promise you, once you try them, you won’t want to go without them. They’ll help recovery, relax you, and improve performance. What more could you ask for?
We have to be kind to our bodies. And while there are just so many benefits to warming up and cooling down, we can’t ignore the fact that they help us ease in an out of the activity we’re participating in, and that’s perhaps the best thing they do for us.
And once you find a routine that works for you, you’ll see dramatic improvements in your performance and recovery – only the two most important things in training.
But that’s where the key is – finding something that works for you.
Your warm-up could be super simple, like walking to the gym and going up that huge flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator. And your cool-down routine might involve just ending your workout five minutes early so you can relax and stretch out.
These routines don’t have to be long. They don’t need to be complicated. They just have to be there! You have to make that effort and invest in your athleticism, but rest assured – that’s an investment that pays off.