Do your muscles a favour

Even though warming up and cooling down only add a few extra minutes to a workout, many people skip this part of exercise.

They arrive at the gym, head straight for the weights, do their workout, then leave the gym. With such a workout routine, calories are still burned, muscles strengthened, and heart health improved, but the workout is missing two things that could take you to the next level – a warm up and a cool down.

You may have a hard time finding enough space in your busy schedule to exercise, so why make extra time to warm up and cool down? Also, to reap their benefits, what’s the proper way to warm up and cool down?

When done the right way, a warm up prepares your mind and body for action. Exercise done at a slow pace as part of a warm up increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles and raises your body temperature so you’re more flexible. By gradually elevating your heart rate, you reduce the amount of stress on your heart.

The stretches done during a warm up lessen muscle stiffness and increase range of motion. And overall, a warm up has the potential to prevent injury, reduce soreness, and lessen the strain on muscles, joints and tendons.

At the start of your workout, spend five to 10 minutes warming up. The longer or more intense your workout, the longer your warm up should be. A warm up may make you start sweating, but it shouldn’t leave you out of breath.

Begin your warm up with a few exercises that require full body motion and work your large muscle groups. Examples include jumping jacks, kicks, side bends, arm swings, squats, or jumping rope.

Then transition to a slower or-lower intensity version of your workout. If you’ll be speed walking, warm up with a brisk walk. Start out your run with a slow jog or swim a couple slow laps before increasing your speed in the pool.

Now that your muscles are warmed up, transition to a few light stretches (never stretch cold muscles) before your workout. Aim to do at least one stretch per major muscle group (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, abdominals, back, biceps, and triceps) for about 10 seconds each. Don’t forget to breathe during your stretches, move slowly and gently, and never bounce your stretch.

Whereas a warm up prepares your muscles, a cool down helps your muscles recover from exertion, bringing your breathing and heart rate back to normal. Stopping exercise too suddenly can cause light-headedness. On the other hand, gradually decreasing your workout’s intensity will allow your heart rate and blood pressure to come down slowly in a way that your body appreciates.

Like warming up, a cool down is a five to 10 minute continuation of your workout, but at a decreased pace and lower intensity. Your cool down can be the same thing you did to warm up. Then, end your cool down with more intense, but never painful, stretches of each major muscle group. This helps elongate and relax muscles; increase the flow of blood, which delivers oxygen and nutrients for muscle recovery; and removes lactic acid to reduce soreness.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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