Two Things Most Skip in Their Workouts

Lt. Col. James Coughlin conducts warm-up exercises during the Keesler Dragons Family Running Club practice at the Triangle Track, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Lt. Col. James Coughlin conducts warm-up exercises during the Keesler Dragons Family Running Club practice at the Triangle Track, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

There are two segments of a workout that are most often skipped or rushed; the warm-up and cool-down. Given the fact that most people are forced to squeeze a quick workout into their busy day, it’s easy to see why they may tend to skip or shorten these critical pieces of their workout — but skipping them can impede performance and expose you to injury.

The Warm Up

According to the Science For Sport webpage, a well-designed warm-up routine can increase blood flow, muscle temperature, core temperature, and much more.

A proper warm-up can have the following positive benefits:

  • Faster muscle contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles
  • Improved rate of force development
  • Improved reaction time
  • Improved muscle strength and power
  • Increased joint viscosity (reduced friction)
  • Improved oxygen delivery
  • Increased blood flow

Your warm-up time and process depends on the activity you planning. For example, you should spend 5-10 minutes loosening up prior for a run or calisthenics workout and 20-30 minutes getting ready for an athletic event such as a football game or swim meet.

Typical Cardio Events

Your warm-up before running or swimming, for instance, should consist of 5 minutes running or swimming to increase blood flow and raise your body temperature. This should be followed by a series of dynamic and static stretches.

Higher Intensity Cardio Events (Sprinting, Intervals, etc)

Your warm-up prior to a high-intensity workout or sporting event, which requires explosive activities like sprinting, jumping, and agility, should consist of exercises that build up progressively as you increase speed and distance. As with all warm-ups you should include 5-10 minutes of dynamic and static.

Resistance Training (Calisthenics and Weight Training)

Regardless of the type or intensity of your resistance training, you still need to increase blood flow and heart rate, muscle temperature, and core temperature, as well as loosen your joints. Typical pyramid sets have been a long time favorite way to warm up using both calisthenics (increasing reps each set — starting at 1 repetition) and weights (increasing weight each set starting at 10 repetitions or more). Keep in mind that the rest sets also contribute to increase blood flow to the joints and muscle affected by training.

Does Static Stretching Decrease Performance?

There is little proof that stretching actually decreases performance as previously thought. (Study on static stretch prior to lifting). Warming up for 5-10 minutes by performing the planned activity or steady-state cardio to increase body temperature should be the standard prior to stretching. Personally, I enjoy a light stretching of the muscles I am working during calisthenics and heavy weight lift rest time in between sets. Light stretching can be defined as moving the joint through the full range of motion by using opposing muscle groups to stretch and flex each other. For instance, by flexing the triceps, you lightly stretch the biceps of the arm. By flexing the biceps, you light stretch the triceps. Same holds true for the chest and upper back, abs and lower back, thighs and hamstrings, and shins and calves.

Does Warming Up Really Prevent injury?

Warm muscles and joints are more pliable than cold muscles and joints. By properly increasing blood flow, heart rate, body temperature prior to workouts or athletic activity, you will decrease your chances of injury and general discomfort during the workout.

Can Stretching Cause Injury?

There is evidence that stretching beyond the level of the normal function required in any activity can cause injury. Similarly, joints not fully able to perform full range of motion activities are easier to injure as well. So, being too limber or not limber enough can cause injury — potentially when performing athletic activities.

The Cool-Down

Like a warm up routine, a cool-down should last at least 5-10 minutes and consist of slowing down the speed of your cardio event, the reps and weight of your resistance workout, then end with static stretching and mobility exercises (full range of motion). The goal of the cool down is to literally cool down by bringing body temperature, breathing rate, and heart rate slowly back to normal. This is done by very low intensity movement that matches the activity you were performing the past several minutes/hours.  The cool-down helps redistribute the blood through the body and promote general well-being by feeling better after a hard workout than if you skip the cool-down activity.

Ways to Help Yourself Cool Down

  • Slow Down - Walk if you run, tread water if you swim, go easy for 10 minutes after any cardio activity. Wrap up your resistance training with a few lighter weight repetitions.
  • Dynamic Stretches - After lifting or high rep calisthenics exercises, do a series of dynamic stretches, even static stretching to relieve the tension in the muscles being worked.
  • Pool Time — Get in a cool pool and literally lower your temperature. Take 5-10 minutes and tread water, swim lightly, or do some aqua-dynamic stretches in chest deep water to loosen and cool the body.
  • Hydrate / Electrolytes / Protein — Refuel the body after intense workout. Add water and salts if you sweat profusely or have salt stains on your clothes. Eat protein and complex carbohydrates to recover from a workout as well as prepare for the next day’s activities.
  • Massage or Foam Roller — Pay for a massage, do self-massage or use the “poor man’s masseuse” (also known as the foam roller) to roll the tension out of muscles and tendons.

About Stretching And Cool Down: There is no evidence that stretching helps much with muscle soreness, or muscle recovery. However, if you feel better by stretching after a workout, there is no harm in adding static stretching (yoga-based stretches) to your day.

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