The time spent on warming up and cooling down can sometimes feel pointless, especially if you’re tight on time. It’s tempting to shorten these parts of your fitness routine or scrap them altogether. Get straight to the meat of the workout, as fast as possible, and when you’re done with that, pack up and go.
But without a good warm up, the quality of your workout will suffer and you’ll be much more likely to get injured. Without a good cool down, your muscles tend to tighten up and it’s much more likely you’ll feel achy and sore. And, a solid cool down is really important for good recovery.
As you age, these before and after workout activities become even more important.
So let's dive into how you can make this a rewarding part of your fitness practice.
Feeling the Purpose Is Great Motivation
It’s one thing to do something because you’re told it’s good for you; it’s an entirely different thing when you actually feel for yourself that something is benefitting you.
So instead of just doing your warm up and cool down because you’ve read that it’s the right thing to do, pay attention to how a good warmup and a cool down makes you feel. Notice that when you warm up properly, you can move more fluidly. A good warmup can help loosen up areas that may be stiff or tight. This feels good and also preps your body to move well. This is also just a great way to check in with yourself and take note of how you’re moving.
With a good warm up, you’ll get the blood moving and the heart pumping. This is also a terrific way to boost your energy, especially if you’re feeling a bit sluggish coming into your workout. And, easing into your workouts allows you to get the most out of yourself. A warmed up body is ready to give to go.
What Warm Up and Cool Down Routines Are Best?
The best way to warm up and cool down is personal, and it will change over time. However, there are some general guidelines that will give you a starting point.
In general, some easy cardiovascular movement and some gentle dynamic stretching are great places to start, followed by some short but slightly more rigorous cardiovascular efforts and a few more powerful dynamic movements.
All together, your warm up should take about fifteen minutes or so. So maybe you begin with 5 to 8 minutes of jogging, do some arm swings and leg swings, and some spine rotating movements. Follow this with four or five running efforts that last 30 seconds each and increase in speed over the duration of the effort. Finish off perhaps with some gentle hopping, jumping, high-knees skipping, or bounding.
For your cool down, you can try out doing the opposite of your warm up, beginning with the jumping and bounding, then 30 second efforts, then dynamic stretching, and finish with easy jogging.
This all helps circulate whatever post-workout waste materials have built up, and it helps keep your muscles and connective tissue loose and flexible. And again, it’s critical for good recovery and also contributes to preventing injury. When you work out, especially with a lot of intensity, you put strain on your soft tissues and even create small tears: a good cool down will encourage good circulation which helps with tissue repair.
Customizing Your Routine
Any before and after workout routine is better than nothing, but it can be fun to experiment on your own and find what works best for you. It’s also a good idea to change things up every so often. Sometimes we get stuck in movement habits. Incorporating different movements helps keep your body agile and moving well.
Also, your body changes over time. You may need more time to get your heartrate up and your blood moving as you get older. You may also need to give some extra attention to a part of your body that feels tighter or more stiff or tired than usual. Routines are great, but so is the ability to meet your body where it is and address its ever-changing needs.
One note here: whenever you are introducing new movements into any routine, start slow and gentle and start with fewer repetitions or amount of time, and build up. For instance, if you want to introduce some jumping, hopping, or other plyometric moves into your warm up and cool down, start by just doing a few at a time, and gradually increase the number, effort, and complexity. Even an activity that feels okay in the moment can introduce an injury or pain if you do too much too soon. Better to air on the side of caution, especially the first few times you do a new movement.
This is also the case if you are returning to working out after a period of time being less active. It’s tempting to jump right back into a routine you’ve done in the past. But it’s best to start slow and determine where your body is at before making assumptions that you can pick up right back where you left off. Overdoing it is the root of many frustrating injuries. Better to do too little at first than too much.
As with all workouts and activities, this part of your fitness regime should be fun, and it should feel good. With the warm up, this is a time to get your body up to speed, definitely.
Just as importantly, it’s a time to prep your mindset for a good session of fitness and training. Acknowledge that you’re taking the time to do something good for your wellness.
Equally, with your cool down, be sure to acknowledge to yourself that you showed up for your health and fitness. You’ve just spent the time and effort to maintain and improve your wellness. That’s something to be proud of and it’s deserving of gratitude. Well done.