Why and How to Warm Up and Cool Down

June 3, 2024 by Jesse Zucker
Why and How to Warm Up and Cool Down

WASHINGTON — If you lack motivation when it comes to exercising, you may feel like just getting through it quickly and calling it a day. However, taking a few minutes before to warm up and a few minutes after to cool down is important for your cardiovascular system, muscles, joints and brain.

Here, we’ll explain the science behind why you need to warm up and cool down no matter what type of workout you do. Plus, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to build a proper warm-up and cool-down routine.

Why Do You Need to Warm Up?

If you only have an hour to work out on your lunch break, do you need to warm up first? Yes. Going from sitting at work directly into a workout doesn’t give your body a chance to catch up. Here’s what happens during a warm up and why you need to do it.

  • Raises Heart Rate and Body Temperature: The number of times your heart beats per minute is called your resting heart rate. When you start exercising, it spikes quickly toward your maximum heart rate. Warming up gives your heart rate a chance to gradually increase. Your body temperature also rises slowly, so you’re literally getting warm.
  • Increases Blood Flow: Once your heart rate and temperature rise, your blood starts flowing. You need a healthy blood flow during exercise so your heart and lungs can deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. The warm up begins this process.
  • Increases Range of Motion: Going directly from sitting at your desk to doing squats or going on a run is a shock to your joints. Slowly warming up your joints may help prevent injury.
  • Strengthens Mind-Muscle Connection: Before you start your workout you want to tune into your body and be present with what you’re feeling. Warming up allows you to build a mind-muscle connection that can help improve your performance.

How to Build a Warm Up

Your warm up may depend on what type of exercise you’re doing but the general framework of a dynamic warm up is as follows:

  • Light Cardio: Three to five minutes of light aerobic activity raises your heart rate and body temperature and increases blood flow. This might be a walk, jog, or a few minutes on any exercise machine, but it should be low-intensity. 
  • Dynamic Stretching: Dynamic stretching involves moving one of your limbs through its complete range of motion for a few repetitions. This type of stretching, rather than holding a stretch for longer, is better for a warm up. 
  • Muscle Activation: In some workouts, you might add this category to your warm up. For example, many people have underactive glute muscles when running, causing their joints to take on too much of the work, which may lead to injury. You can do glute exercises, like clamshells and bridges, to “activate” those muscles before you run.
  • Sport-Specific Activity: The third part refers to doing something directly related to your workout. If you’re doing a strength training workout that involves squats with a 25-pound dumbbell, do a few squats with just your body weight in the warm up. If you’re playing a sport, you might do some skill drills in your warm up. Think of it as a rehearsal.

Why Do You Need to Cool Down?

Cooling down takes five to 15 minutes. Here’s what it does for your body.

  • Improves Blood Flow to Prevent Blood Pooling: Blood builds up in your muscles as they contract while you exercise. During a cool down, your blood begins flowing back through your veins into the rest of your body. Cooling down may prevent blood from pooling in your veins, which can cause fainting.
  • Helps Heart Rate Recovery: Your heart rate is elevated while you exercise. Cooling down gives it time to return to its resting rate. How quickly your heart rate comes back down is known as heart rate recovery
  • Regulates Blood Pressure and Temperature: It’s a literal cool down as your body temperature comes back down to normal. Your blood pressure also temporarily elevates during exercise and can return to its regular level during a cool down. This is important for your cardiovascular system
  • Removes Lactic Acid: Lactic acid builds up in your muscles when you exercise and cooling down may start the process of removing it
  • Placebo Effect: It is widely believed that cooling down helps prevent muscle soreness, but research results are mixed. However, many studies suggest there is a placebo effect. When athletes perceive that a cool-down helps their recovery, their performance improves at their next event.

How to Build a Cool Down

Here’s what to do.

  • Light Cardio: A few more minutes of light cardio starts the process of lowering your heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, which helps your cardiovascular system start recovering. This part should be less intense than your workout.
  • Static Stretches: When you think of a typical stretch, you probably think of static 

stretching. You hold a position still and feel the muscle stretching for 20 to 30 seconds. You’ll want to specifically do static stretches for the muscles you just worked.

Warm It Up and Cool It Down

They’re called warm up and cool down for a reason: your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate all rise before, then they come down after exercise. These processes are essential for your heart, lungs and muscles. Remember to do dynamic stretches (where you move through your range of motion) first and static stretches (holding a position) afterward.

Our website content, services and products are for informational purposes only. The Well News does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have medical concerns or questions, discuss with your health care professional.

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