Warm up. Workout. Cool down.
Most of us could recite this in our sleep, right?
Well maybe we should listen more closely to our sleep talking because I have a hunch that many exercisers are skipping two out of three of these steps. I used to be one of those people. I felt like cardio minutes were the best use of time, I wanted to burn as many calories in the little allotted time I had to workout. Now I feel like I am doing myself a disservice if I skip a step, as occasionally happens if I run a little slower than expected and don’t have time to cool down. Maybe I’m getting wiser with my years.
As we age (which is happening to all of us at this very second) the first and third step become more and more important to the health of our joints, muscles, brains, and hearts but no matter what your age or level of physical fitness please take this as a reminder not to skip any steps!
Why Warm Up?
The warm up is the time to tune into your body. As I warm up I naturally do a little body scan; how’s my energy level? Does my knee hurt? Am I up for running sprints today? Doing this little check in before you get into the meat of your workout can allow you to listen to your body better throughout the duration and provide you with a better workout and decreased risk of injury.
Physically, taking some time to warm up the body gives the circulatory system a chance to catch up with your muscle activity, resulting in more oxygenated muscles then if you jump right into a full fledged workout. Slowly increasing the heart rate is crucial for anyone with high blood pressure or at risk of heart disease.
Muscles are like taffy, pliable and stretchy when warm but brittle and tough when cold. If you jump right into a workout then you are asking cold taffy-like muscles to accommodate for a range of motion that they are not prepared for. Warming the muscles naturally increases their range of motion and prepares them to move big, full, and fast.
Mentally, a warm up is like a rehearsal for the muscles; it gently tells the body to prepare for the upcoming activity. By rehearsing your body for the workout you are less likely to become injured because your body knows what’s expected of it.
A warm up needs to last at least 5 minutes and can last up to 15, depending on your age, the time of day, your level of fitness, and the activity for which you are warming up.
Note: Stretching doesn’t necessarily need to be included in a warm up and in fact has been shown to make you run slower. I save my stretching for the cool down when running.
Decreased risk of heart disease, increased metabolism, increased strength, decreased weight, natural energy boost and mood elevator, better sleep, better sex, recreation, increased range of motion, maintaining bone density and muscle mass, and stress reduction are just a few of the reasons why you may be working out.
The important things are consistency and variety. Consistency because exercise is a lifelong practice, you can’t store up the benefits to cash in later. Variety reduces the risk of injury and increases the likelihood of adequately working the entire body through cardio and strength building exercises.
Maybe the most important aspect of your workout is that you enjoy it. 🙂
Just Cool It.
Would a yoga class feel complete without Savasana? Neither should a workout feel compete without a cool down.
Like Savasana, a cool down provides time for your body and mind to synthesize the workout. Similarly to during the warm up, I do a quick body scan and note what areas were worked, how they feel, and what needs stretched. I also take a moment to applaud myself for working out, express gratitude for my healthy, strong body, and etch in my mind how great it feels to move. Synthesizing my mind and body this way creates greater incentive for me the next time I consider skipping a workout.
Cooling the body down gradually returns the heart rate to normal, allows the blood to gradually slow it’s movement and prevents blood pooling in the muscles, and allows time for stretching the muscles.
Our flexibility naturally decreases as we age. Scar tissue builds on muscles after injuries, we move around less than when we were kids, and our muscle fibers decrease and shrink. We can combat this by regularly stretching warm muscles through their full range of motion and muscles are warmest right after a workout.
Cool downs should take at least 5 minutes and as much as 20 minutes.
The best part? A great cool down that includes stretching all of the muscles worked during exercise will make you feel soooo much more ready for your next workout!
Tomorrow I’ll write in more detail about what should be included in a warm up and cool down but in the meantime, tell me about your favorite way to warm up/cool down!