Warm-Ups & Cool-Downs: Don’t Forget Them

Warming up?  Cooling down? Yawn!  We’re all aware that we should warm up before starting any workout and cool down before finishing.  We’ve heard the warnings that failure to do so could cause injury but our time is precious and these are often the parts to be skipped when we’re short on workout time.

Many of us are guilty of counting the short walk from the carpark to the health club as a warmup and launching straight into our main workout when we hit the gym floor.  Sneaking out of a class just before the cool-down is the best way to beat the queue for the showers and chilling out in the sauna feels like a good way to pamper tired muscles.  It doesn’t seem to have done any harm.  Or has it? Why do we need a warm-up and cool-down?

Warming up is not just about preventing injury (although this is extremely important ) it is about preparing your body for the exercise that is about to commence, to maximise your performance- much in the same way that you would not go straight from 1st to 5th gear in a car .

A warm up improves your neural function & coordination, increases your body temperature, increases blood flow to the working muscles, protects your joints by increasing synovial fluid, and gradually raises the heart rate.  All of these things enable your body to perform at it’s best during the main component of your workout and ultimately lead to better results.

The cool down is not just deep breathing to whale music or lying, exhausted on a mat for 3 minutes till you get your breath back!  Your cool down should gradually decrease the intensity of the main work you were doing and slowly return your body to a state of rest by gradual reduction in heart rate.  This prevents blood pooling and minimises the risk of fainting.  Also  (perhaps less tangibly) by telling yourself that a cool down has commenced, there is a psychological effect.

Stretching may form part of your warm-up or cool down but it is not the only method (there is actually some debate about whether static stretching is safe and effective).  There are many things you can include  – walking, marching, skipping, squats without any resistance.  Try out different things to find out what works best for you, ask a member of gym staff  for input or attend a class where you can be guided by an instructor.  Just don’t leave it out!


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