Most of us think about exercise as the part of the workout where we sweat and gain the most benefit, but this can be a dangerous way to proceed. The most important part of every workout is the warm-up and cool-down, the five to ten minutes before and after each workout.

Warming up and cooling down are the best way to protect yourself against exercise-related injury. Skipping either can cause muscle strains and tears and shortchange the effectiveness of your workout.

What is a warm-up?

A proper warm-up starts with stretching to wake up your muscles, followed by a session of some type of activity that gets your blood moving and quickens your breathing. This activity might be walking in place, jumping jacks, or skipping rope at an easy pace.

You are not looking for serious cardiovascular benefit in your warm-up. The goal here is to send more oxygen into the muscles by increasing the rate of respiration. Getting your heart beating faster also increases blood flow to muscles, helping them work more efficiently, and sends your body the signal to start producing adrenaline. Other good warm up activities include yoga sun salutations, cycling, or using the stair step machine.

What is a cool-down?

You have warmed up and had an intense workout. You are sweaty and feeling great. Time to hit the showers? Not yet. The final step of every workout, every time, is the cool-down period. This is a five to ten minute period where you tell your body that the effort is over and it’s time to relax.

The activities can be the same as in the warm-up, but they serve a different purpose. As we workout, our muscles build up waste products, like lactic acid. A moderate walk on a treadmill or ride on a stationary bike keeps the blood pumping and helps remove any built up waste. Keeping the blood moving through the body normalizes blood flow and prevents dizziness as the blood flows from the extremities during exercise back to the heart.

Additionally, a cool-down period tells the body to stop producing adrenaline. This is the part that functions as a stress reliever. If you don’t cool down and ease out of your workout, your body will not know to stop producing adrenaline, and this will keep your stress level up. This stresses both body and mind and keeps you from feeling the benefits of a good workout.

Warming up and cooling down are great ways to increase flexibility and gain more benefit from your workout. Which activities do you use to warm up and cool down?

Image by Incase via Flickr


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