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When & How to Stretch, Warm-Up and Cool-down

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warm up & cool down

I’ll be the first to admit that I am horrible at following some of my own exercise advice. I don’t stretch enough (okay at all) and certainly don’t take the time to warm-up or cool-down like I probably should. I’m relatively young so I’m able to get by with skipping a few of these important steps. However, as I get older I want to make sure I’m able to stay active so have made it a goal to not skip the warm-up or the stretching. These are all important components of a safe, effective workout.

The Workout “Flow”

Typically a workout will consist of three basic stages.

  1. Warm-up.
  2. Workout.
  3. Cool-down.

Simple enough, right? In theory, yes. I couldn’t find an official statistic but I would be willing to bet that 80% of people skip the warm-up portion of their workout. But why does the warm-up matter?

Stage One: The Warm-up

Warming up should be the first part of any workout. A warm-up is important because it helps gradually increase the body temperature and helps increase blood flow to the muscles. It helps prepare your body for exercise. If you’re warming up for aerobic exercise (going for a run etc.) you could start with a slow 10 minute jog to get your blood flowing. If you’re warming up for strength training try moving your muscles to mimic the patterns and exercises you’ll be doing but without weights. The whole idea is to gradually warm-up and prepare your body for exercise.

Those who do take the time to warm-up want to make sure they’re doing it correctly. There are a few things you’ll want to remember to make sure you’re doing a proper warm-up.

  • Never stretch a cold muscle. Let’s imagine it’s a fall, chilly Saturday afternoon. You decide you’re going to go out for a run. You get dressed and immediately start doing some static stretching before hitting the road thinking you’re doing a good warm-up. This is wrong for a number of reasons! First, you should never stretch a cold muscle. Static stretching–the kind of stretching where you hold the stretch–could also decrease your performance.
  • Always start with an aerobic warm-up. Like I said before, you should always start with some sort of mild aerobic warm-up to get blood flowing to your muscles before you do any stretching.
  • Choose dynamic, not static stretches. Dynamic stretches are slow, controlled movements and are different than static stretches. Dynamic stretching can include movements like arm circles or hip rotations but make sure to focus on technique when completing these stretches. These should be done after your mild aerobic warm-up to again help loosen and ready your muscles for physical activity.

Stage Two: The Workout

Whatever your workout may be make sure to give it your all. I recently signed up for my second half marathon so my workouts in the next few months will involve more running. It’s easy to get bored or burnt out with working out so do what you can to find motivation. Personally I find that running blogs motivate me. Some of my favorites are The Hungry Runner Girl, Skinny Runner, and STUFT Mama. They all inspire me to run faster and train harder. Whether you’re into running, lifting, CrossFit or Yoga there’s bound to be a blog you’ll enjoy.

Stage Three: The Cool-down

The cool-down is equally as important. I talked about the importance of letting your body gradually warm up but it’s also important to let your body gradually cool-down too. One analogy I think of with this is a hair straightener. You have to let it warm-up to work properly but it is equally important to let it cool-down too. If you’re a male who has never used a straightener I apologize for not having a better analogy. A cool-down occurs at the end of the workout to help the body return to a normal temperature.

I mentioned that static stretching should not be down as part of the warm-up but it could be included in the cool down. Stretching as part of your cool-down can help increase the blood flow to your muscles and may help decrease your risk of injury. There are a few other reasons you’ll want to make sure you don’t skip the cool-down.

  • A proper cool-down may help decrease post workout muscle soreness and stiffness and help get the heart rate, breathing rate and core temperature back to pre-exercise levels.
  • A good workout can take a toll on you not only physically but mentally. A proper cool-down can help your body recover and can also help your mind recover so you are ready to take on the day.

While each workout is different it’s important to make sure you’re doing a proper warm-up and cool-down to help your body recover like it needs to.

Do you warm-up and cool-down as part of your workouts? Leave a comment below!

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3 Responses to When & How to Stretch, Warm-Up and Cool-down

  1. Lisa@ revitol skin cream October 31, 2013 at 7:02 am #

    Laura, thank you very much for this useful information. I also do my workout regularly and I know warm up is very important to get some energy for workout, but I was not aware of that the cool sown is also a equally important and now I will follow the same guidelines everyday. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Laura Miller October 31, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Thanks for reading Lisa, A proper warm-up and cool-down will help your body recover and make a huge difference in your workouts. Stay active!

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