You might be eager to jump right into your exercise routine or other physical activity, but it’s important to prepare your body first. When you begin any strenuous activity with “cold” muscles, you’re more likely to get injured.
Proper warm-up and cool-down periods are an essential part of any exercise program no matter if you’re a professional athlete, beginner or somewhere in between. The most important reason for warming up before exercising or participating in any sport is to prevent injury. When you gently warm up your muscles before intense physical activity, you’re less likely to sustain injuries like hamstring pulls and muscle strains. Likewise, a proper cool-down can help keep your muscles from cramping and prepare your body for next time.
Benefits of a proper warm-up
You should warm up for 10-15 minutes to gradually boost your body’s core and muscle temperatures. This practice may also help reduce post-activity muscle soreness. Here are three benefits of a proper warm up:
- Increased muscle flexibility and range of motion
- Increased elasticity of the tendons and ligaments
- Increased oxygenated blood flow to the muscles
Benefits of a proper cool-down
Cooling down after physical activity gradually reduces your heart rate; helps you avoid injury and stretches you out. Here are a few additional benefits of a proper cool down:
- Gradually cooling down keeps your blood circulating, prevents it from pooling inside your veins, and reduces your risk of fainting or dizziness
- Stretching your muscles while they are still warm can help reduce lactic acid build-up, which, in turn, reduces your risk of muscle cramps or stiffness.
- Stretching after physical activity also helps elongate the connective tissue around your joints, which helps increase mobility and range of motion
- Prepares your muscles for the next exercise session or practice
How to warm up properly and avoid injury
A typical warm-up consists of light cardiovascular exercises with stretching. A good indicator of a proper warm-up is that you’ve raised a light sweat. If you’re exercising for general fitness, allow 5-10 minutes for your pre-exercise warm-up (or slightly longer in cold weather). If you’re exercising at a higher level than for general fitness, you will likely need a longer warm up that is designed specifically for your sport or activity. Here are a few things you can do to warm up properly and avoid injury:
- Stretch major muscle groups (e.g., hips, thighs, glutes, calves, chest and shoulders)
- Aim for larger movements like marching or jogging in place, swinging your arms back and forth or making large circles to target all your major muscles simultaneously
- Focus on the specific muscle groups you’ll be using during your exercise or activity.
- Do the specific activity you’re preparing to do, but at a slower pace
How to cool down properly and avoid injury
A typical cool-down routine can look a lot like your warm-up routine, as it consists of light cardiovascular exercises and stretching. As a general guide, allow approximately 10 minutes for postexercise stretching for every 1 hour of activity. Here is how to cool down properly and avoid injury:
- Engage in light jogging or walking
- Gradually reduce the intensity of your activity
- Stretch the exerted muscle groups with long, slow stretches (these should be more thorough than your warm-up stretches) for 20-30 seconds each, 2-3 times
- Breathe from your diaphragm to help slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure
- Rehydrate and refuel to help heal and strengthen your body
Taking time to properly warm up and cool down can help prevent muscle injuries and speed recovery time following physical activity. It can also help you avoid unnecessary bruising. Strenuous exercise, like weightlifting, can cause tears in the blood vessels, which can lead to bruising and swelling. Alternatively, if you’ve suffered a cut or bruise, heavy exercise or overexertion can actually increase blood flow to the injured area and make the bruise worse. Visit Getwell Urgent Care for your cut or bruise if isn’t healing properly or seems to be getting worse. We’re open for walk-in appointments 7 days a week from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.