Let’s address the elephant in the room. Many people think that warming up and cooling down before and after an exercise or a sport time-consuming and not a big deal.
If you belong to that school of thought, it’s time to understand the importance and benefits of a proper warm-up and cool-down.
A warm-up mentally and physically prepares an athlete for the physical activity to follow while minimizing the risk of an injury. A cool-down helps the heart rate to gradually return to normal and helps the body to recover.
Warm-up is an integral part of any training session or competition. As the body temperature rises, the blood flow to the muscle increases which in turn oxygenates the muscles.
The synovial fluid which is released during a warm-up lubricates the joints and minimizes friction between them. A well structured warm-up can potentially increase performance at a gym or on the field.
An ideal warm up should be specific to the physical activity to be performed.
This can consist of three phases:
Phase 1– This phase should involve 5 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercises like jogging skipping or brisk walking. The aim is to increase the heart rate, blood flow and to lubricate the joints.
Phase 2– The second phase involves generic dynamic stretches that loosen up the muscles. Target the muscles that are primarily going to be used in that particular workout or sport.
Phase 3– Followed by generic stretches, incorporate specific movements that are involved in the upcoming physical activity. This phase should also include rehearsals of the skill to be performed. Start at a low intensity and gradually progress to high intensity. At the end of the warm-up, an athlete should be able to perform the desired skill at 100%.
Some of the benefits of a warm-up are:
- Reduced risk of injury
- Increased blood flow
- Faster muscle contraction and relaxation
- Increased force development and reaction time
- Better muscle strength and power
- Improves physiological performance
Cooling down is just as important as warming up. It helps bring down the heart rate, body temperature and gets breathing back to normal.
A cool-down should be designed in such a way that the intensity of the physical activity that was being performed is brought down slowly. For example, if you are jogging, walk quickly during cool-down. If you are cycling uphill, do it on flat terrain for a cool down. You want to ensure that the body is brought back to a pre workout state gradually and any abrupt change is avoided.
An effective cool-down also requires you to include some static (isometric) stretches. These stretches should be held for about 30 seconds each and should target the major muscle groups along with any other muscle used during the physical activity.
Let’s look at the benefits of cooling-down:
- Allows proper blood redistribution to the heart
- Eliminates toxins like lactic acid that is formed during a strenuous physical activity
- Regulates body temperature, heart rate and breathing
- Prevents muscle soreness and injury
- Faster recovery
If you are someone who has been skipping warm-up and cool-down, you are missing out on two very integral aspects of a sport/workout! So next time, be sure to include them before and after a physical activity to get the maximum benefit out of it.
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