We have all been told at one point or another of the importance of warming up and cooling down, whether it is for sport or just a standard workout, but why exactly are they important?
As a Physiotherapist with years of clinical experience, I, for one, understand the importance of this recommendation all too well. This is because I’ve seen the potential ramifications that could result from not undertaking a sufficient warm-up and cool down.
In today’s post, I’ll be breaking down:
- Static or dynamic stretching when warming up and cooling down?
- Foam rolling’s place in warm-ups and cool-downs?
- Why light cardio is important whether warming up or cooling down?
- How to do an effective warm-up?
- What’s the purpose of cooling down?
- How to do an effective cool-down?
Let’s begin with warming up.
Now, warming up generally consists of stretching and light cardio.
Static or dynamic stretching when warming up and cooling down?
Of course, by and large, we all know why stretching is important when warming up or cooling down. It allows for a greater range of motion and eases the stress on joints and tendons which can help prevent injury. However, it is important to point out that there are actually two main forms of stretching that should be utilized at different segments of a workout: Static Stretching and Dynamic Stretching.
To explain the difference between these two subcategories of stretching, we first need to elucidate the difference between flexibility and mobility. These terms are commonly used interchangeably between one another, but they’re actually not the same thing. Flexibility, for example, is the ability of a muscle to lengthen whereas mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through its range of motion.
Therefore, flexibility is actually a necessary component of adequate mobility rather than a synonym of it.
This is relevant because static stretching is when we hold a stretch without movement (improving flexibility) while dynamic stretching is going through a range-of-motion (improving mobility). Dynamic stretching is done without holding it at the end range as is the case for static stretching. Dynamic stretching is basically a movement-based type of stretching, hence, dynamic.
An example of dynamic stretching would be a leg pendulum where you start to swing one leg back and forth 5-10 times while balancing on the other. You will not feel a typical stretch as you would with static stretching, but your hip joint would be moving within its sagittal range of motion.
Dynamic stretching has become the more popular form of stretching in the last number of years. It’s going to increase blood flow to your muscles that you’re about to work, it will help with lubricating your joints and it will prepare your body for the movements that will be carried out in the forthcoming activity.
Additionally, by way of the warming of the muscles, it will allow the muscles to contract more forcefully and relax more quickly resulting in both speed and strength being enhanced. So this form of stretching should be done before exercise.
In contrast, static stretching is thought to be a somewhat old-school method of stretching. However, it does still have its place in an exercise routine as there is evidence backing up both forms.
That said, there is a lot of contrasting information out there on which you should do and when you should do them alongside if you should even stretch at all surprisingly. Our recommendation is to incorporate static stretching into the cool down of your workout.
We will go more in-depth about that later!
Interestingly, a study done by Hadden et al. (2014) compared the effects of static vs. dynamic stretching on explosive performances and repeated sprint ability after 24-hours. What they found was that static stretching of the lower limbs and hip musculature actually harmed explosive performances for up to 24 hours post-stretching whereas dynamic stretching had a positive effect on explosive performances.
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Foam rolling’s place in warm-ups and cool-downs?
Now that we have talked about stretching, you may be wondering about foam rolling’s place in warming up and cooling down.
Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release method which, as the name suggests, aims to loosen up tension in the fascia. In addition, it attempts to alleviate muscle tightness as well as diminish trigger points.
But what is fascia?
Well, fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds and connects many structures within your body such as organs, nerves and muscle tissues. With myo meaning muscle, myofascial is therefore relating to the fascia surrounding muscles specifically.
In short, whether foam rolling can loosen fascia or not is inconclusive at the moment. One study by Schleip (2003) suggests that the pressure required to break down fascial tissue is not reached via foam rolling techniques.
Alternatively, another theory of how self-myofascial techniques may break down fascia is by the thixotropic effect (the ability of fascia to fluctuate between a gel (viscous) state and a fluid state) from the heat and mechanical stress experienced (Phillips et al., 2018).
Although, Schleip (2003) proposes that this effect only lasts as long as the foam rolling is applied, and within minutes, it will subside whether used when warming cool or cooling down.
Therefore, we do not know yet if foam rolling has the ability to break up tension in the fascia.
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However, foam rolling’s ability to reduce muscle tightness has a lot more validity than to break down fascia in the pursuit of enhanced flexibility.
Cheatham, Kolber, Cain and Lee (2015) demonstrates that short-term benefits for flexibility may be achieved, without decreasing muscle performance, by using a foam roller for 30-60 seconds over 2 to 5 sessions.
The researchers suggest that self-myofascial release to improve muscle flexibility is best done when combined with static stretching post-exercise.
In addition to this, the same study also proposes that foam rolling may also reduce delayed-onset muscle syndrome (DOMS). DOMS is the lingering soreness that we feel within our muscles in the days following an intense workout session.
Finally, what about foam rolling’s ability to dispel trigger points?
Trigger points are said to be discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle and the topic is controversial, to say the least. There is great debate as to whether they can be accurately identified and even further debate whether they can be effectively treated at all.
That said, Wilke, Vogt and Banzer (2018) indicate that using foam rollers for the treatment of trigger points could be beneficial in terms of improved muscle function and performance. Although the authors explain that further research should be done to investigate its impact on pain relief.
We would love to provide better clarity on this subject guys, but the truth is that the research is still not quite there yet to draw any definitive conclusions.
It’s important to point out that if you do decide to foam roll when warming up and cooling down, the pressure of the roller may be a bit uncomfortable at the time, but no sharp pain should be felt.
Why light cardio is important whether warming up or cooling down?
Now when it comes to light cardio, the benefits are that it increases blood circulation, increases body temperature, brings your heart rate up, increases hormone secretion and also helps with mental preparation. Let’s go into a bit further detail regarding each of these benefits, shall we?
Firstly, the way a light cardio warm-up increases your blood circulation is by enlarging your blood vessels through vasodilation. Vase meaning vessels and dilation meaning to dilate so to open. This ensures that your muscles are well equipped with oxygen and in addition, the enlarged blood vessels will result in lower stress exerted on your heart.
By undertaking a light cardio warm-up, blood flow actually increases 70-75% to the relevant muscles being utilized as the capillaries in the muscles open. In contrast, if you start working out without an adequate warm-up, blood flow to your muscles will be reduced to about 15-20% as most of the tiny blood vessels (or capillaries) within these muscles will be closed. Therefore, a light cardio warm up’s effect is notable guys.
Similarly, an increase in blood circulation is important as it increases muscle temperature which also causes increased flexibility and efficiency of muscles.
When muscle temperature is high, hemoglobin in your blood releases more oxygen to the muscles which results in better endurance and performance! In comparison, increased body temperature obtained from a light cardio warm-up also does the same.
Besides this, light cardio also helps to bring our heart rate up slowly and will help as a result minimize stress on your heart.
Moreover, it increases hormone secretion which is a benefit as it allows more carbs and fatty acids available for energy production.
Finally, when it comes to warming up before a sport. Mental preparation is key as it clears your mind, enhances focus, and helps you to review your skills and strategy before the sport.
So you see guys, warming up is beneficial for a list of reasons.
How to do an effective warm-up?
That said, how exactly do we do an effective warm up?
Well, an effective warm up should have you just starting to break a sweat. Typically a warm up should last between 5-10 minutes but the more intense the activity that you’re preparing for, the longer the warm up should be.
Be aware that we want to use our entire body during our warm-up and not just our arms or legs for example. We want to use our legs, trunk, arms, neck, everything guys!
Concerning the light cardio aspect, rather than for us to provide for you the traditional advice to hop on a stationary bike which we feel gets very monotonous, we recommend using movements in your warm up that will be done in your workout/ sporting activity, starting at a slow pace while gradually increasing the intensity.
For instance, if you are going to do jogging or squats in your workout then you would want to do light jogging or light squats in your warm-up.
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Completing exercise-specific warm up drills will assist in the activation of neural pathways to enhance reaction time and communication between the nerves and muscles and help to stimulate the motor patterns we need for our exercise.
Now when it comes to dynamic stretching, I recommend doing about 10 repetitions alongside 1 set per stretch. Again, it is important to perform dynamic stretches in a fluid movement and to avoid bouncing. Please see the video below for an example of dynamic stretching.
What’s the purpose of cooling down?
Now let’s talk about, cooling down.
So guys, cooling down is essentially the opposite of warming up.
After physical activity, our hearts are beating faster than normal, we are breathing heavier, body temperature is higher and our blood vessels are dilated so they’re enlarged.
Therefore, cooling down reduces heart and breathing rates while gradually cooling body temperature, hence, cooling down. Consequently, it will bring the body back to its original state prior to the warm-up.
In addition, an effective cool down also helps the body to dispose of waste products and toxins that are a result of exercise with the most well-known waste product being lactic acid.
The bad thing about lactic acid guys is that if it builds in the body it may actually cause stiffness and cramps which is obviously what we don’t want. Moreover, stretching can also help reduce the build-up of lactic acid in your body alongside helping return muscles back to their optimal length-tension relationships.
Furthermore, cooling down may also help avoid fainting or dizziness. If you don’t cool down, you do not give your blood flow the chance to decrease gradually. As a result, when the heart loses a strong push suddenly, the majority of the blood tends to go to your extremities instead of to your head which is what helps create the whole problem of dizziness and fainting in the first place
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How to do an effective cool-down?
So how do we do an effective cool down?
Well just like warming up, we want to be doing between 5 and 10 minutes while incorporating both stretching and light cardio.
Now, as mentioned previously, we want to focus on 30-45 second static stretching in our cool down in contrast to the dynamic stretching in the warm-up. Preferably with some foam rolling for 30-60 seconds on each large muscle group to complement the static stretching and reduce the dreaded DOMS!
Again, try to do light cardio that resembles the type of exercise that was done during your workout.
Also not forgetting to hydrate in order to replenish as much water used from the preceding vigorous activity as possible guys!
So in conclusion guys, warming up and cooling down are essential components for any sport or workout activity. Warming up is imperative for improving exercise performance through increased speed, strength, endurance and reaction time. It also provides a greater range for your joints to move within which can help ease the stress on joints and tendons. Additionally, it brings the heart rate up gradually to lower stress on your heart while increasing hormone secretion and reducing the risk for injury.
In comparison, cooling down is equally as important as it brings the body back to its original state prior to warming up, helps avoid fainting or dizziness, decreases muscle soreness and cramps in the days following an exercise session and returns muscles back to their optimal length-tension relationships.
Like a good book guys, exercise too should have a meaningful beginning, middle and end.
Now that you have the basics of warming up and cooling down covered, would you like to learn about workout nutrition for weight loss? Be sure to check out our video breaking it down simply below!
HADDAD, M. et al. (2014) Static stretching can impair explosive performance for at least 24 hours. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28 (1), p. 140-146
Schleip R. (2003). Fascial plasticity – a new neurobiological explanation: part 1. J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 7, 11–19. 10.1016/S1360-8592(02)00067-0
Phillips J., Diggin D., King D. L., Sforzo G. A. (2018). Effect of varying self-myofascial release duration on subsequent athletic performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002751.
Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 827–838.
Wilke, J., Vogt, L., & Banzer, W. (2018). Immediate effects of self-myofascial release on latent trigger point sensitivity: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Biology of sport, 35(4), 349–354. https://doi.org/10.5114/biolsport.2018.78055