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The importance of warming up and cooling down

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The importance of warming up and cooling down to improve your athletic performance

Since our school days we have been told that it’s important to warm up and cool down whenever we perform any type of movement workout. We probably haven’t questioned it. After all, we know and accept that warming up and cooling down is important. But why exactly is it so important if we are to fully reap the health benefits of physical exercise?

How to warm up before your movement workout

One of the easiest ways to warm up is simply to spend 5-10 minutes doing the activity you are planning, but at a slower pace and a reduced intensity. This will get the muscles you are going to be using used to bending and flexing and will rev up your cardiovascular system by increasing your body temperature and helping the blood flow more freely to your muscles, which may also help to reduce sore muscles after you exercise and decrease your risk of injury.1 If you are going to run, spend five minutes walking. If you are going to cycle, spend five minutes doing it slowly to ease into it.

How exactly can warming up improve athletic performance?

Improves blood flow Starting your movement workout with a warm-up helps to improve the blood flowing to your skeletal muscles, which in turn opens up your blood capillaries. As blood transports the oxygen to your muscles to function, increasing your blood flow is an excellent way to get your muscles ready for physical activity.

Improved oxygen efficiency Oxygen is needed in higher amounts when exercising and warm-ups help to release oxygen from your blood. Warming up is therefore a great way to make oxygen more available.
Faster contraction and relaxation of muscles —Your muscles will perform faster and more efficiently when they increase in temperature and warming up will increase your body temperature.

Helps with injury prevention – Loosening your joints and improving blood flow to your muscles could make them less likely to twist or tear, or undergo too much strain during your movement workout.

Not forgetting mental focus – Mental focus is important for all types of exercise and warming up is a great way to achieve this, by focusing your brain on what you are about to do, thereby helping to improve your technique, coordination, and skill.

The best way to cool down

Cooling down is important to help bring your heart rate back to normal and to encourage your blood pressure to return to normal. There is a greater risk of blood pooling in your lower extremities which can result in your blood pressure crashing if you don’t cool down.2 You might choose to continue your chosen activity at a slower and less intense pace, as with your warm-up, or you could simply spend 5-10 minutes walking while your body recovers. Once your heart rate has slowed back to a more regular pace it’s advisable to do some static stretching to help reduce the accumulation of lactic acid which can contribute to sore, aching muscles in the following days.3

So if warming up and cooling down is so important, why do we so often have to be reminded to do it? As with many things, it probably comes down to a combination of time and effort. While warming up and cooling down may add a few minutes to your movement workout, reports by the Mayo Clinic have revealed that this might be one of the best ways to reduce stress on your heart and other muscles,4 so it’s well worth dedicating the time to.

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