With our busy lifestyles, it is easy to rush through our exercise routine. If you only have 30 minutes or an hour in the gym, it might seem more efficient to skip the warm-up and cool-down, and head straight into the hard-core workout.
While these pre- and post-workout sessions don’t always feel like ‘real’ exercise, they benefit long-term fitness and strength. As with your standard exercise routine, make sure you are executing the movements correctly for maximum benefits. It always helps to get a professional opinion to avoid injuries and to push your body to its full potential. My Health and Fitness offers a wide range of fitness specialists and health professionals who can assist.
Why warm up?
Your warm-up routine helps to pump fresh blood and oxygen to your muscles, preparing them for the workout to come. Spend 10 minutes doing full-body cardio exercises targeting major muscle groups, which will get your body ready for action.
Should I include stretching?
Recent studies suggest that static stretching, where you hold a stretch before exercise could do more harm than good. Instead, consider working a dynamic stretch routine into your warm-up.
According to Mike Lagomarsine, Fitness and Recreation Center director of fitness at Boston University, “for someone doing a typical gym workout, the warm-up should not be static stretching, but instead a more dynamic, or moving, stretching. This will warm up the body by getting the heart rate elevated and move the body through a range of motion, but will do so actively.”
Dynamic stretching could include sessions on the treadmill or elliptical bike, jogging or jump rope. You can even start with a yoga flow as a warm-up. The point is to keep moving. It’s equally important to pace yourself when you’re warming up, though. In an article on health.harvard.edu, William Kormos, M.D. explains that it is more beneficial to gradually increase your activity. “Instead of launching immediately into a brisk walk, spend five to 10 minutes taking a leisurely stroll with long strides, and then increase the pace gradually,” he explains.
Don’t skip the cool-down
The last 10 minutes of your session should be focussed on cooling down your muscles and calming your heart rate. According to physiotherapist John Miller, your cool-down acts as a steady normaliser helping to remove muscle ‘waste’, “and assist the normalising of ‘fight and flight’ chemicals such as adrenaline in your blood.”
Miller further explains that your cool-down is important to normalise your muscle length through static stretching. “One the byproducts of exercise is muscle bunching. […] During sports, this may be beneficial but between your training sessions it leads to hypertonic muscles, increased risk of muscle strain and in long-term cases a loss of joint range of motion.” It is therefore important to stretch out all the muscles you used during your exercise routine.
Are you stretching correctly?
In an article on health.harvard.edu, David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, advises you hold a stretch for 30 seconds. “Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle, and talk to your doctor.”