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Warm-up and Cool-Down – What’s the Big Deal?

Often when we work out, we overlook the importance of the warm-up and cool-down. It is just easier to skip the warm-up, do the workout, skip the cool down, and get on with the rest of your day. For this reason, it is important that you know there are benefits to doing both the warm-up and cool-down.


Why do you need to do a warm-up? This is easy to answer, when you perform a warm-up, you are preparing your body for the exercise that is to be done during the conditioning part of your workout. The main reason to warm-up is to increase your body’s temperature. This will increase blood flow to the muscles allowing more oxygen to unload at the level of the working muscles which in turn allows your body to produce more energy to do work. In addition, when the muscles are warmed-up, they contract with more force and they relax quicker which allows you to do more strenuous exercise. As your core temperature increases, muscles, tendons, and ligaments stiffness are lowered. The decrease in stiffness of the muscles lowers the risk of injury. You can imagine your muscles as string cheese. When the cheese is cold it can easily be ripped apart but when it is warmed-up it makes it harder to tear it apart as it is more flexible.

When you start a warm-up, you want to start at a low intensity and progress to a higher intensity activity. Once you have broken into a light sweat then begin to mimic the exercises that you will do during your main workout, we call these rehearsal moves. These moves will help to increase the temperature of the specific muscles that will be used in more strenuous activity. Also, these rehearsal moves prepare the neuromuscular system to allow more complex skills to be performed efficiently during the actual workout.

What about stretching during the warm-up?

There are different types of stretching such as dynamic stretching, static stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). The warm-up should include dynamic stretching. This type of stretching involves movements that go through a full range of motion. To begin, you want to start at a slow pace and gradually increase speed and range of motion. The goal is to increase body temperature which is why you do not want to use static stretching (holding a final position for a set period of time) or PNF stretching (contract and relax method). These stretches involve holding a final position for a set period of time letting our heart rates to decrease, which is the opposite of what we want to accomplish in the warm-up.


The workout is done, now it is time to wipe off the sweat and continue with your day…wrong…it is time to cool down! After your workout, your heart is racing, your body’s temperature is up, your breathing rate is elevated, and your blood is still moving through the body quickly. When we stop abruptly, this can cause blood to pool in the lower extremities as we miss out on the muscle pump -when the skeletal muscles contract, the veins in the legs are squeezed which helps in the return of blood to the heart as the valves in the veins allow a one direction flow of blood back to the heart.

If the blood pools in the lower extremities, it can cause dizziness, nausea, and even fainting as the blood is not making its way back to the brain and heart. You want to slowly decrease the intensity of your workout to allow time for your blood pressure to decrease and for blood flow to return to normal circulation through the whole body.

Once your breathing rate and heart rate are back down to about normal, now is the time to stretch for flexibility. At this time, you want to choose either static stretching or PNF (this requires a knowledgeable fitness professional to assist you). Unlike dynamic stretching, static stretching does not include active movements. Static stretching is holding a stretch for a set period of time. This type of stretching involves relaxing of the muscle as well as lengthening the muscles. Since the stretch speed is slow it lowers risk of injury. If you are just starting to include flexibility into your routing you may want to begin with 15-20 second hold and gradually increase to 60 seconds. When doing a static stretch, you want to hold the stretch and feel slight discomfort, NOT pain, in the muscles. Including static stretching into your cool-down may help to decrease your chances of future injury and it may also improve movement performance because you are able to move through full range of motion of the joint without restrictions.

For some people, the warm-up and cool down are the least important part of the workout. However just like a sandwich, the warm-up and cool-down are the breads, and the workout is what goes in the middle. If you want to make a sandwich you need all the ingredients otherwise you are just eating ham or turkey on its own. To get the full satisfaction of the meal, you want all the ingredients. To get the full satisfaction/benefits of the workout, you want all the ingredients as well. Add 3-5 minutes to each end of your workout to reap the full benefits of your workout.

Cynthia Morales completed her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Fitness at Long Beach State University. She loves promoting healthy lifestyle changes and helping people through their own journey to help them reach their wellness goals.

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