Making the decision to start exercising is great, but if it is your first time hitting the gym, or you have been out of practice for some time, you need to remember that it’s not just a matter of putting on the gear and going. The importance of warming up and cooling down cannot be underestimated, as you can easily injure yourself if you become overzealous. While most people, regardless of athletic ability, are familiar with the idea of warming up, not everyone is used to hearing about cooling down. In this blog, we will look at how to do both.
Even if you exercise regularly, going from zero to a hundred in the space of a few minutes can easily cause you to injure yourself. Whether it is a sudden, obvious injury like pulling a hamstring, or one that sets in slowly and subtly, like Plantar fasciitis, failure to warm up makes it more likely that you will do damage to your muscles and tendons. If this happens, your exercise routine will be interrupted as you take time to recover, which not only means you are in pain, but also costs you the benefits of the effort you have put in. Doing a proper warm up means that you are gently easing your body into the exercise, and you are less likely to be taken out of action.
While many people do not see cooling down as being as important as warming up, it is better for your health in a number of different ways. For example, it is better for your heart rate and breathing to be brought down gradually rather than suddenly. It can also help prevent symptoms such as dizziness or nausea that can occur when blood pools in the areas that were working the hardest, and suffering such symptoms could put you off exercising again. The point after an intense workout is also when your muscles will be at their most flexible, which gives you an opportunity to stretch them and increase their elasticity in general.
What to Do
Regardless of the type of athletic activity you are undertaking, you should spend the first five-to-ten minutes warming up, and the last five-to-ten cooling down. Of course, the most important thing to remember is to focus on the muscles you will be using most during the activity. For example, if you are running, you want to focus mainly on your legs and ankles. If you are swimming, you would focus on your legs, arms, and neck. For rock climbing, you would also want to pay attention to your back muscles.
While the cool down is often the perfect chance to get in some stretches and increase your overall flexibility, you don’t need to do stretches every single time. The most important aspect of a cool down is to allow your blood flow and breathing to come down gradually. For this reason, doing a brisk walk that slows down over the course of about five-to-ten minutes is often enough.
Across all forms of exercise, injuries to the lower limbs are by far the most common. Whether you like running, swimming, climbing, football, tennis, or golf, the lower limbs often have to do the most work. For a detailed list of what you can do to prevent injuries to this area, see our blog Stretching Exercises for the Lower Limbs.