The Benefits of Warming Up and Cooling Down
Warm-ups and cool downs are something we all hear about all the time, but not many of us truly understand why everyone says they are so important. So, what are they and how can we make the most out of them to improve our functionality, exercise performance, and exercise routine?
A warm-up is a nice way to gradually get your body ready for activities that are slightly more strenuous than everyday tasks. They have the potential to improve your performance outcome by up to 20% if performed correctly and have the possibility to prevent injuries during the session.
The warm-up phase is a transitional phase that allows the body to get ready for any changing demands the body makes when an exercise session starts, such as beginning to direct more blood flow to the working muscles instead of to the organs like the stomach and liver. Lots of things within the body need to change when we begin exercising, so a warm-up is a nice way to introduce change to your body without overloading it too quickly.
A typical warm-up should include a light-to-moderate intensity activity that is specific to the muscle groups that will be used during the exercise, for example: lightly warming up the legs before performing exercises like squats and deadlifts.
The ‘Perfect’ Warm-Up:
The ideal warm-up consists of a brief period (10-20minutes) of a low-intensity aerobic exercise like walking, cycling, or rowing. By making this the first part of the warm-up it provides a period of time where the body is able to slowly increase its body temperature and prepare for a heavier workload and make thermoregulation more efficient. The next part of the warm-up should utilise dynamic stretching that allow the muscles to be stretched through their mobile range of motion in preparation for load, followed by sport or exercise specific movements. By performing specific tasks at the end of the warm-up, the body and its muscles can direct blood flow to the muscles that need it most and allow an opportunity for light rehearsal to take place, making the main exercise more effective, thereby having the potential to improve your performance.
A cool down is an integral part of the exercise session as they are used to help the body to safely return to a near-resting level. This means that the heart rate and breathing rate are guided back down to a safe resting level, helping manage blood pressure and venous return.
A cool down that maintains a moderate level of intensity doesn’t show much benefit as this sustains the time that the body’s core temperature is elevated. Therefore, our internal systems don’t know how to respond and as a result, keep our heart rate and breathing rate elevated, which will effectively challenge the body’s ability to ‘cool down’ and achieve a resting state. However, a low intensity flexibility cool down that includes static stretching can help facilitate a more relaxed physiological state and would therefore be a better option to utilise.
The ’Perfect’ Cool Down:
The best type of cool down to perform is submerging yourself in cold water straight after exercise completion as this has the largest benefit to our involuntary nervous system (eg. heart rate, blood pressure, digestion). However, this isn’t widely accessible following most exercise sessions, so making a conscious effort to think about how to utilise body movements to achieve the same result is the next best thing.
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