Warming up and Cooling Down – Essential Components of Your Exercise Session
By: Patty Dietz, MS
Many people think that the warm up is just for injury prevention. While this is true and very important, this component of your exercise session also serves to prepare your body for more effective results.
• Muscles utilize more oxygen when working. Oxygen is more available at higher temperatures. Therefore, warming up the muscles prior to higher intensity activity facilitates the muscles ability to use the oxygen, leading to a more efficient workout.
• A gradual increase in intensity at the beginning of the workout delays fatigue during the higher intensity of the workout. This has to do with availability of oxygen and fuel and the limited accumulation of lactic acid and metabolic byproducts that lead to fatigue.
• Nerve impulses move more quickly to throughout the body at higher temperatures leading to improved motor skills. Improved motor skills means better agility and more force generated by the muscles.
• A warm up allows for joint lubrication which makes movement easier.
Your warm up should involve rhythmic movement of the large muscle groups. It should be of sufficient intensity to increase the core temperature without fatiguing the muscles. The intensity should gradually increase – over 5-10 minutes – to workout levels. Though static stretching through the full range of motion should not be included in the warm up, gentle movements throughout the range of motion are important. After warming up, it is fine to do more stretching before the workout if you feel the need. (We’ll address proper stretching techniques in another article.)
Even more people skip a cool down than the warm up. But an appropriate cool down is important to transitioning from exercise to a non-exercise state.
• The cool down increases the rate of removal of lactic acid, which can contribute to delayed onset muscle soreness. Eliminating this possible irritant quickly decreases the potential for soreness caused by micro-trauma to the tissues (sorry, this cannot be avoided).
• When exercising, blood flow to the working muscles is increased. Stopping completely from a high intensity workout can cause the blood to pool in the lower extremities, causing fainting and dizziness. It can also put undue stress on the heart.
• Mild exercise in cool down helps adrenaline to be removed from the blood stream more quickly. This is important because continued presence of adrenaline in the blood can stress the heart.
• Without a cool down, your heart or brain could be deprived of oxygen which can spell danger.
A cool down is the reverse of a warm up, offering a gradual decrease of intensity with gentle exercise. A good time for effective stretching is after the cool down, when the muscles are still warm, but the heart rate has slowed down.
Patty Dietz is an Exercise Physiologist and owner of Health Fitness Specialists. Her company offers fitness solutions through personal and semi private fitness training, group classes and educational seminars. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.