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Warm-Up & Cool-Down Exercises

Instructor: Geralyn Vilar
This lesson will discuss warm-up and cool-down exercises for cardio, flexibility, and strength training workouts. We will examine the importance of warming up before exercising and cooling down afterwards to prevent injuries.

Why Warm Up and Cool Down?

Exercising without the proper warm-up or cool-down period can lead to pain, soreness, and even injury. Muscle strengthening exercises are not the only physical activities that need a warm-up and cool-down period. Picture a group of runners where some warm up before a run while others do not. Those who do not warm up may find an increase in muscle soreness over the following few days.

Warming up also increases flexibility of your muscles and prepares them by bringing oxygen to the muscles being used. Have you ever started running quickly, only to be stopped by a pain in your side? This is called oxygen debt. Your muscles did not have a chance to warm up enough prior to the run in order to bring sufficient oxygen to the area. Whenever a muscle lacks oxygen, pain results. Similarly, cooling down with a gentle stretch after exercising is important to reduce muscle stiffness and pain.

Exercises For Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts are intended to strengthen the heart and lungs. Warming up before cardio activities (such as running, walking, and biking) gradually brings your heart rate up. This is important because experiencing a sudden increase in heart rate strains the heart muscle. Similarly, when you cool down after exercising, your heart rate gradually returns to normal. Without a gradual return, your blood pressure can suddenly drop, causing you to become dizzy or even faint.

Runners should walk briskly for 5 minutes before and after a run. If you are walking for exercise, walk at a slow pace for 5 minutes before and after the brisk walk. Those who bike should slow their pace for 5 minutes before and after their workout. In addition, one should gently stretch their muscles for 5-10 minutes before and after all workouts. A list of recommended stretches is found below. Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds. Remember to breathe, and avoid bouncing your body.

Exercises For Flexibility Training

Flexibility training is intended to improve the range of motion in the joints and prepare the body to function better, both in exercise activities (like sports) as well as everyday activities. Flexibility training primarily involves stretches. However, one should not jump into stretching exercises 'cold.' Prior to stretching it is important to warm up the muscles by walking briskly or jumping rope for 5 minutes. Similarly, certain muscles may be tight prior to a workout. Applying pressure to these areas will help relieve tension and increase blood flow to tight areas. For example, if the lower back is tight you can warm up that area by placing a foam roller on the floor and rolling it back and forth using your back. For tight thigh muscles, roll a tennis ball back and forth across the tight area, applying pressure by pushing down on the tennis ball.

In addition, it is important to stretch the muscles for 5-10 minutes following a workout. Stretching allows the muscles (which have tightened and shortened during the workout) to return to their at-rest length.

Exercises For Strength Training

Strength training involves building muscle strength and mass using weights and resistance systems. Prior to a workout it's important to 'prime' the muscles and joints (which will be exposed to larger weight loads than normal during the body of the workout). For example, if one is doing strength training for the upper body, spending time on a rowing machine primes (or warms up) the muscles of the upper body.

Similarly, to prime the muscles one can initially do the intended exercise with a lighter weight load. For example, assume your intended strength training workout involves doing arm curls using 80 pounds of weight. Initially doing a few repetitions of the same exercise, but with only 40 pounds of weight, will warm up the muscles you are targeting in your main workout. As with cardio and flexibility workouts, it is important to stretch the muscles following a strength training workout.

Recommended Stretches

The following are commonly used stretching exercises.

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