The importance of warming up and cooling down

Many people will take several precautions to stop an injury occurring while participating in sport, but a traditional warm up and cool down are essential to preventing injury and aiding the body to rest and recover.

The first step comes before exercise and that is a warm up, a warm up is essential for the body. They are designed to prepare the body physically and psychologically for exercise, reducing the risk of injury when exercising.

A warm up exercise prepares the body for exercise by increasing the blood flow to the muscles allowing for an increase in their range of movement, doing this gradually increases body temperature.

Eventually this increases the speed and force of muscular contractions, the speed of nerve impulses also increases at higher body temperatures and finally the muscle range of movement will increase.

A thorough warm up also ensures that the demand made on the circulatory and metabolic systems is gradual, meaning that blood can safely be diverted away from other parts of the body towards the muscles being worked.

Beginning an exercise session in this way helps improve neutral function and co-ordination, protecting major joints as it allows time to increase the supply lubricating synovial fluids to the joints and to prepare cartilages.

A warm up should be challenging but not cause fatigue, they should not only be appropriate for the activity planned but tailored for the individual regarding their age and level of fitness. However, a normal warm up routine will last 5-15 minutes.

A warm up may include:

  • Walking or jogging to increase the body’s temperature
  • Dynamic stretches to reduce muscle stiffness
  • Specific stretches for muscles that will be used during exercise

After you’ve completed your exercise session it is just as important to now cool down just as your warmed up. A cool down will decrease the intensity helping the body to return to a state of rest.

The key to an effective cool down is that the process of returning the body to rest should be gradual, for example use the first five minutes to gradually lower the intensity of your exercise, allowing you to get your breathing back under control and to a normal rate.

After your heart rate has returned to a state of rest it is important to then stretch, as stretching the muscle groups that have been used will reduce the delayed onset of muscles soreness.

Stretching will also aid recovery and assist the body in its repairing process, also try to include deep breathing as this will help oxygenate the body.

The effects of an effective cool down include:

  • Preventing blood pooling, returning the blood back to the heart rather than allowing it to pool in the muscles that have been worked
  • Bringing the heart rate back down, in a gradual and controlled manner
  • Preventing fainting by ensuring that the brain continues to receive a sufficient supply of blood and oxygen
  • Reducing the lactic acid levels in the blood

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