If you are one of those people who practice exercise or some type of sport, you will have noticed, or at least your coach will have warned you, that the quality of your performance has a lot to do with the warm-up you do before starting your workout and cooling down once you have finished the session.
There is confusion and sometimes laziness thinking that these two stages are not important, especially when one does not have much time and other activities pending in the daily routine. It is a good idea to anticipate how much time you count with to devote to your exercise session, be it strength with weight-bearing exercises, or cardiovascular such as running, swimming or cycling, for example. Even doing yoga requires a warm-up and a cool-down phase.
For Yoga, warming up is done through a dynamic sequence of postures that is repeated 6-10 times called Surya Namaskar A or B, or better known as the Sun Salutation.
Just as yoga begins with a dynamic warm-up, other types of training can benefit from using this sequence to warm up. There are also other forms of warm-up that we are going to review, but the overall goal for both warm-up and cool-down is to prevent injuries.
As for the warm-up, this activates the sympathetic central nervous system, readying the body, the muscles, the mind and providing all the vigour for a thorough training session. Warming up will give you the confidence to perform the exercises with technique, applying proper breathing, posture, and range of motion.
Cooling down after training allows for a gradual recovery of pre-workout heart rate and blood pressure. Cooling down may be more important for competitive endurance athletes, such as runners, because it helps regulate blood flow. As for strength training, general stretches targeting the muscle group that was used the most in the workout will allow you to reap the benefits of the cool down.
Warm up before a cardio workout
Whether for running, cycling, swimming or other aerobic exercise, the warm-up begins with movements that mimic to a lesser extent those that will be used during sports practice. For example,
- Before running, walk a couple of minutes
- Do leg lunges or alternate long strides returning to the stance of depart
- Move the pelvic girdle back and forth (crucial for the iliopsoas)
- Make circles with the hips in a clockwise direction and then vice versa.
- Circles with the knees in a clockwise direction and then the opposite
- Move the ankles in and out
- Accessing the hamstring area is not so easy, but the specific exercise for them, although static, allows their activation.
Note: For cycling, start by a light riding before applying resistance or speed. Also, add exercises that involve the movement of the knees up and down.
For swimming, swim 4-6 easy laps to loosen up the muscles before starting training. Also, move your arms in circles and other movements similar to the stroke styles used during training.
Warm up for weight training
There are several alternatives depending on how much time you have for your training and what you want to include in it.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it's important to combine cardio and strength exercises so you don't overload small muscle groups and allow time for recovery.
According to an article in Livescience magazine which cites a study from the Journal of Applied Physiology, combining cardio and weight training provides a powerful combination for weight loss success. The researchers found that for overweight adults, strength training can help increase lean mass. Aerobic training is the "optimal mode" of exercise to reduce fat mass and body mass.
These indications are for people who train less than 6 times a week. For athletes with intense training, it is better to separate these two types of training to get the most out of each of them and avoid stress fatigue and injuries.
If your intention is to develop muscle hypertrophy and strength, your training should emphasize weight bearing training. In this case, and to include cardiovascular activation, if you are in the gym, you can jump rope, or use the bikes and treadmills to warm up for 15-30 minutes.
Then, do a first set without or with very little weights mimicking the movement of the chosen exercise; this helps a lot to prepare the muscles. You can do this with each of the muscle strengthening exercises you are going to train with during your work out. If you feel you're warm enough the you can skip the warm-up set, but always keep an eye on your current strength and figure out if you're going to be able to do all the repetitions you're aiming for in each particular set with the weight you want to use.
Just as important as the warm-up is the way the training session ends. Some trainers find that the cool down can take 5-10 minutes.
For one thing, studies have shown that post-exercise ice baths aren't as effective as gentle activity for stretching trained muscles. (2)
As for me, I started doing yoga postures years ago as part of my cool down after training. Eventually, it became a part of my fitness routine. So, after training, doing some light stretching and/or walking, either on a treadmill or on the way home or office, can help a lot.
Relaxation is often used in yoga to wind down, get you ready to resume daily activities and this can also be applied to cardio and strength training.
Some stretches you may find helpful: Keep in mind the muscle group that was exercised during the workout and focus your stretches on it.
For a general cool-down you can start by stretching
As for warming up, depending on time and exercise, you can do sun salutations (yoga), walk, ride a bike or swim between 15-30 minutes and then continue with muscle strengthening exercises.
If the purpose is muscle hypertrophy, do specific warm-ups, that is, moving and activating the muscles that are going to be used in training, but without weight or with a very light weight on the first set to prepare the muscles.
To cool down, it's good to do stretching, light walking and/or a relaxation for at least 5 minutes.
Moreover, try to stay active all day, even if your work implies sitting in front of a desk for hours. In this case, try to stand up every 20-30 minutes and take a short walk.