Disqus for Where Are My Knees

The importance of warming up and cooling down

Thursday, 21 April 2011

I'll be the first to admit that I never used to do any sort of warm up or cooling down before exercising. I've actually, to this day, never seen anyone else warm up or do any stretches in the gym so I would have felt really uncomfortable strutting in and doing some stretches but the truth is - I'd rather look crazy (actually, I probably wouldn't look crazy at all…) than have achey muscles or worse, end up with an injury.

So, I've been reading up on warm ups and cool downs and thought I'd share what I've started doing with you guys as I'm sure there are at least a few people reading who don't warm up properly either.

The Warm Up Session

A warm up should consist of a few minutes of stretching to warm up and stretch out your muscles, followed by some low impact aerobic exercises to increase your heart rate. A warm up should last anywhere between 5-15 minutes depending on how intense your work out will be.

The benefits of doing a warm up include:
  • Stretches your muscles and reduces risk of injury.
  • Gradually prepares your body for your work-out and reduces the risk of stress being placed on the heart.
  • Gets your body ready for a tough work out - this means you're more likely to work out for longer and benefit more from your session.

    Personally, for my warm up, I've been doing most of the stretches shown in this video and then following that with a 5 minute walk at a medium-to-high pace or some low-impact cycling at the gym. If I'm using weights I always start off with lower weights for the first few sets and then gradually build up to the highest weight I can manage.

    The Cooling Down Session

    Cooling down does exactly what it says on the tin - it cools your body down to the state it was in before exercising. Cooling down is said to be done in three different stages - gentle exercise, stretches and refuelling.

    The benefits of cooling down include:
  • Releasing toxins such as lactic acid which have built up throughout your exercise. These release strain from your muscles and help prevent the ache you get the day after exercising.
  • Reduces your heart back to it's normal rate.
  • Provides nourishment to help build muscles and rehydrate.

    My two main forms of exercise - gym and running - both mean that my work out session ends with cardio so what I do to cool down is just gradually slow down whatever I'm doing. If I'm running, I slow down to a jog and then gradually slow down to a walking pace and walk for 5-10 minutes. If I'm at the gym I'll cycle/run/row slower and gradually reduce the resistance until I come to a stop. Afterwards I do some more stretches, as shown in the video linked above. I make sure to drink lots of water to rehydrate following my exercise. It's also recommended to eat a light snack/meal containing carbs and protein within 45 minutes of working out - I'd usually just eat some nuts and seeds or a fruit salad.

    Now I need to point out that I am definitely not qualified in any of what I've wrote here - it's just what I've read throughout some research, so what I've said may not be 100% correct or even the best way to warm up and cool down, but it has been helping me. I don't seem to be quite as sore after work outs, and I've never had a work out related injury.

    Do you always warm up and cool down, or are you the same I was and skip it? What do you do as your warm up/cool down routine?

    1. You know, I'm always really good about cooling down, but not so much with warming up. I should get into warming up because I've noticed that the back of my legs have been more sore than usual. I think that will help.

    2. these are great tips, my warming up and cooling down consists of a brisk walk and lots of water plus a few stretches. sometimes i feel i should be doing more stretching though

    3. These are great tips as I too have never seen anyone warm up or cool down in the gym and didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb. I tended to do a couple stretches in the changing room before and after which thinking back is just as weird :S
      I definitely need to do more stretches though because today I felt my legs were more tight then usual.
      Great post.
      Gathering the Daisies

    4. I'm rubbish at warming up and cooling down. I find exercise hard work at the best of times, but adding on warm up and cool down and I find it all too much.


    5. Im pretty good at warm and cool these days - the PERFECT way to do it is to walk to/from the gym! Also, if you do get the aches, can I recommend a firm massage with Lush's Wiccy massage bar - works a treat!

      Can any of you guys see your knees yet?

    6. I always do a five minute warm up walk and then a five minute cool down walk. I've always been taught NOT to stretch your muscles before exercise, as the muscles are cold, and to stretch them suddenly can actually cause injury, and that the whole point of the warm up is to prepare the muscles. I always stretch after my cool down though!

    7. Just a heads up, it doesn't seem to be well known, but stretches PRE-workout should be dynamic - i.e moving the joints through their range and that, no static stretches. Stretching a 'cold' muscle can damage it. So a good warm up stretch for the upper body could be arm circles :)

      That said, its being looked into now - some athletics don't warm up at all, I don't understand it fully but my lecturer was on about it being a new 'cheat' or something. Don't get the science behind that?!

      I'm a physiotherapy geek =\


    8. oh goodness.. I love your blog...what an awesome idea!!

      Thank you xo

      Mele, Australia


    9. Prettyinthedesert - I think warming up definitely does help. I still get pains the day after, but they're not so bad! x

      Hannah - I've only just recently started doing more stretches - I usually just done the walking or some slow cycling to warm up/cool down. x

      Samantha Jane - I used to do the exact same thing in the changing rooms haha! Or I'd do some stretches at home and then walk the 5 minutes to the gym. It would definitely be weirder to get caught doing stretches in the changing room than in the gym! ;) x

      Caroline - I don't think a warm up or cool down should be hard work at all, a few stretches shouldn't tire you out much and it does seem to benefit you. x

      Llara - My gym is a 5 minute walk away from home so it's perfect for me to warm up and cool down by walking there and back! I don't really like the smell of that massage bar but I might try it out if it helps. My legs ache SO BAD after running. x

      Ffion - There was so much conflicting information on google about whether to stretch or not but most seemed to be in favour of it! x

      Sarah - Thanks for the info! I have no idea what dynamic and static stretches are but I'll look it up. :) It seems like there's not really a definite right or wrong way to do it… just a lot of different opinions! x

      Mele - Thank you, hope it helps you on your own weightloss/fitness/health goals! x

    10. I like stretches. I'm sure they're doing me as much good as the actual exercising. I have shoulder and back trouble, and having a nice stretch out is wonderful.
      Before running, I do a set of stretches before I leave the house, and then I walk for five minutes before I run. To cool down, I do the same thing in reverse. Walk for five minutes and stretches when I get home.

    11. I recently started running for the first time in my life (27 years old...) and have been looking into different ways to warm up and cool down. The overwhelming opinion I've come across is that stretching pre-workout is a complete no no, as it can damage muscles etc. A good warm up can be as simple as brisk walking for 5 mins to warm your body up and get your heart rate up. Stretching is a complete must post-workout, however.

      As you say, there are lots of different opinions out there, so far I've found the above to work really well for me.