When it's hard enough squeezing a workout into an already-packed schedule, setting aside extra time to warm up and cool down seems like a waste of time. Or is it?
To find out if these steps should be a part of your fitness plan, we talked to Tim Coleman, MS, PT, OCS, a physical therapist, and Andrew Shadel, ATC, LAT, an athletic trainer, both from METT Therapy in Illinois, a Franciscan Health partnering organization.
Q: Is It Important to Make Time In Your Fitness Plan for a Warm Up and Cool Down?
Shadel: If you're in a time crunch, it would be more beneficial for you to choose an activity that will burn more calories in less time and still do a warm up. For example, instead of jogging at the same pace for an hour, which may burn about 500 calories depending on your pace, you could do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT programs use periods of intense effort to bring your heart rate to a higher level. The end result: you burn the same amount calories as jogging, but in roughly 40-50 minutes. That leaves you plenty of time to warm up.
Q: Why is Warming Up Important?
Shadel: A good warm up program makes your muscles more pliable and tear resistant by increasing your body temperature and blood flow. When you're warmed up, you're much less likely to have a muscle tear or a joint-related injury because it requires greater stretch and increased force to create a tear.
Q: What is the Best Way to Warm Up?
Shadel: We always say, "Warm up with what you're going to do." If you're going to be running, then a light jog is a solid choice. But if you're going to the gym or doing any sports activity, cycling is a better option.
Stationary cycling is easy on the hips and knees because it's a low-impact exercise, and it's excellent at raising your body temperature. And, if you're using a traditional bike – not a reclined version – then it's great for working your core as well. You can also do some dynamic stretches like deep squats and walking lunges.
Q: How Long Should a Warm Up Session Be?
Coleman: The more intense your workout is going to be, the longer your warmup should be. If you're going on a basic run and are in average shape, then three to seven minutes of light cardio to raise your core body temperature should be a sufficient warm up. If, on the other hand, you re planning to run a marathon, your warm up should be significantly longer, about 20 to 30 minutes or more.
Shadel: I think most people would be shocked with what they can accomplish with a seven-minute warm up. Before you jump into your workout, complete four or five minutes of light cardio to break a sweat followed by two minutes of dynamic stretching.
Q: Is Cooling Down a Necessary Part of a Workout Routine?
Coleman: Cool downs are important for a few reasons. Slowing your heart rate gradually helps take pressure off of your cardiovascular system. Cooling down also helps to prevent blood from pooling in the veins and reduces post-workout soreness by facilitating the removal of lactic acid that builds up during intense exercise.
Shadel: Whether or not you need a cool down session depends on several factors. If you're older, have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease or you're otherwise prone to injury, then a cool down becomes more important especially following a vigorous workout. But if you're young and healthy and just finished a 30-minute jog, you could get away with shortening your cool down.
Q: What Should You Do During a Cool Down?
Coleman: It's best to perform static stretching exercises after a workout when your body temperature is elevated. This type of stretching is where you hold a position for a period of time, like hamstring stretches. Gentle and prolonged stretching elongates the connective tissue, relaxes the nerves within the muscle tissue and helps increase your range of motion.
If you're an athlete who would like personalized training and techniques to improve your performance, contact one of many Franciscan Health sports medicine programs or locations near you.