Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs

by: Lisa Ritchie

Warming up, cooling down and stretching. A lot of exercisers just skip them or rush right through them. Spending another five or ten minutes on your workout, however, could help prevent injury, reduce fatigue and increase strength.

When you start exercising your cardio respiratory and muscular systems get stimulated. Muscles contract, your heart beats faster, your blood flow and breathing both increase all to meet the new demands of exercising. Eventually your body temperature rises and you begin to burn glucose and fat for fuel. However, if your body isn’t ready for these changes, or they occur too quickly, injury is almost surely a result.

By gradually warming up you increase your metabolic rate and oxygen is delivered to the needy muscles faster. The elasticity of your muscles improves and your muscle contractions become stronger. You also burn calories more efficiently. You can workout longer and more comfortably because lactic acid doesn’t build up as quickly leading to fatigue. A well designed warm-up, cool down and stretch can also improve joint flexibility, range of motion and muscle control. Mentally it can help psyche you up for your workout!

So; where do you start? Contrary to popular belief, starting with stretching is not the best route. Stretching cold muscles can easily result in injuries. Begin by warming up your muscles using a slower, gentler movement pattern than your actual workout. For example, if you’re preparing for a run, start by walking briskly for five minutes. If you’re cycling begin in lower gear. You should be able to talk very comfortably during your warmup as you just break in to a light sweat.

After your workout you should reverse the process and cool down for five minutes, using the same movements as your warm-up; a lighter gentler version of your workout. Then choose gentle flexibility stretches to lengthen the muscles you’ve just trained. Avoid bouncing or “ballistic” stretches which can tear muscles and ligaments. Use “static” stretches in which you hold each stretch for at least one minute. You should reach until you feel a slight “pull” or tension but try to relax the muscle, breathe deeply and don’t put yourself in any pain. Stretch all your major muscle groups, especially those that were trained that day. Be careful not to compromise any joint.

Don’t be tempted to skip or skimp on this. By lengthening your muscles and moving through each joint’s full range of motion you will help disperse built up lactic acid thereby avoiding delayed onset muscle soreness. You will also enhance your day to day flexibility, increase elasticity and prevent injuries from pulled muscles. You will also see an increased quality of life over time as you become more pliable.

Too many people rush into and out of their workouts, hurrying to their next appointment, skipping these vital components. Incorporate them into your total workout time and you’ll find your exercise enjoyment will increase and you’ll find daily tasks becoming easier. Everyone should stretch daily, not just on those days you exercise.




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