During the winter months and colder weather, we have gotten into the habit of warming up our vehicles for a few extra minutes before we head off to our destination — especially if we drive older vehicles. We’ve learned our vehicles operate better when they are warmed up a bit.
The same holds true for your body. Incorporating a proper warmup and cool-down routine into your workout regimen helps prevent injuries during rigorous exercises and activities.
A warmup routine should include dynamic stretching exercises to prepare your body for the upcoming workout. Dynamic stretching involves momentum movements like a brisk walk; arm circles; shoulder rolls; torso and hip rotations; and leg swings. These movements gradually increase your heart and respiratory rate; increase proper blood flow to the muscles; prepare your body for available range of motion; and mentally prepare you to power through your fitness routine.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), an organization that offers programs for fitness enthusiasts to become nationally certified personal trainers, recommends a general or specific warmup to be performed at a low and moderate intensity level for about five to 10 minutes, depending on overall fitness level and type of physical activity.
A general warmup consists of movements that do not necessarily relate to the intense exercise that will follow, but still will prepare your cardiovascular system to complete the workout. A specific warmup consists of movements that will mimic similar exercises you’re about to do. This type of warmup is ideal for those who are about to participate in a specific sport or strength training exercises.
Cooling down the body is just as important as incorporating a warmup in any workout. A proper cool down safely reduces heart and breathing rates; gradually cools the body temperature; and helps prevent blood pooling in the lower parts of the body, according to NASM.
The cool down is also the perfect time to include dynamic and static stretching exercises to enhance your flexibility training — especially while the muscles are warm.
Static stretching involves reaching and holding a set position to the point of tension for a period of time, preferably for at least 30 seconds. Try to avoid forcing extremities into an overextended position to prevent pulling or straining ligaments. Seek the guidance of a fitness professional if you need help determining which stretching exercises are right for you.
There does seem to be some debate among fitness professionals on performing certain types of stretches before or after a workout and if static stretching decreases a person’s overall strength. Some researchers have found this to be true, but mostly among high-performance athletes, according to NASM.
In general, stretching increases flexibility, improves posture, increases overall range of motion and calms the mind.
Stephanie Swearngin teaches group fitness classes at VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa and at VASA Fitness.