Warming up and cooling down are highly important in reducing the risk of injuries and pain during or after exercise. The following information will help you prepare properly for exercise.
A warm up is when you prepare your body for performing physical activities by gently exercising your body from its resting, relaxed state, to the more excited or aroused state required for physical activity. It is seen as gentle practice before the activity begins.
A great way to protect your body is to make sure that you warm up effectively before you do any exercise. Warming up ensures your body is ready to handle the stress of more intense movements. When you have been at rest, or doing non-strenuous movement, your muscles become stiff. They need to be gradually warmed up to exercise, as suddenly putting stiff muscles through a lot of exertion can lead to injuries.
A warm up involves exercising at gradually increasing intensities in the time leading up to the activity, and involves periods of stretching.
Benefits of warming up
A proper warm up carries many benefits, all of which should reduce the risk of injury. The benefits include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Increased body temperature
- Increased joint flexibility
After a correct warm up, the body parts which are about to be exercised will be nice and ‘elastic’, ready to be used, with less risk of being injured. The muscles are able to react quicker when they are warmer and the blood flow is quicker, improving your physical capabilities.
Types of stretching
There are three different types of stretching: static, dynamic and ballistic.
- Static stretching is when you hold a position, and do not move until the stretch is completed. The stretches are held for a period of time, stretching the muscle out. Stretches are typically held for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching is when you stretch with controlled movement. An example would be exaggerated knee lifts during a jog (bringing your knees up especially high, parallel to the ground, which will stretch out the hamstrings), stretching your muscles through action rather than through a static position. It helps increase your core temperature which is good for injury prevention.
- Ballistic stretching involves ‘bouncing’ or ‘jerking’ movements during otherwise static stretches, and generally is not recommended. This form of stretching can strain your muscles before they are warmed up, before they are ‘elastic’ and therefore may cause damage to ligaments and muscle fibres.
Research indicates that dynamic stretching is the best option to carry out as part of your warm up, despite static stretching being a very common feature in warm ups. Results published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicated that static stretching can impair explosive performance, after test participants recorded slower times in sprints compared to when they had warmed up with dynamic stretches. The effects caused by the type of stretching each participant performed lasted for 24 hours.
When warming up prior to taking part in a skill based activity, such as football, you should incorporate those skills into your warm up. This helps prepare the right muscles for what you are about to do.
For example, weaving between a line of cones while dribbling a ball will help warm your body up to prepare for the particular stresses that football will put on it. However, you still need to make sure each and every part of your body is warmed up to help avoid injury.
A cool down is when you perform low-intensity or slower exercise, and stretches, following exercising or doing sport. This allows the body to gently transition back down to its normal resting state, and should help reduce the risk of muscle stiffness and strain following intense activity.
It is just as important to cool down as it is to warm up, because it helps your heart rate gradually return to its normal speed, and your muscles to relax, returning to their normal resting state.
Additionally, it could make Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) less likely, enabling you to continue with your training schedule rather than having to include an impromptu rest day due to pain or discomfort.
When cooling down, you should look to gradually decrease the intensity you are moving at, once you have finished your activity, over a certain period of time. A typical cool down lasts for at least ten minutes.
For example, let’s say you have been running at a fast pace during your activity. In your cool down, you should do some (continuous) running, gradually slowing to a jog, and then to a walk, which will help your body to ‘ease down’ post-activity. Once you have done this, you should perform a range of static stretches.