When you’re getting motivated to go for a jog or play tennis, spending time on a warmup and cool down isn’t a waste of time: it can help to prevent injuries and increase flexibility so that your exercise is fun, not painful.
“Whether you’re an elite athlete or just working on your fitness, a warmup before you exercise prepares your body for the more intense stress of your workout,” said Kyle Bangen, MS, CSCS, a strength and conditioning specialist at Samaritan Athletic Medicine (The SAM). “It helps to prevent muscle injuries, and incorporating a variety of movements can activate muscles that aren’t being used during your workout to help keep your body more balanced.”
According to the journal Sports Medicine, a warm muscle can take more stretch and force before it tears. That protective effect means you’ll have a lower risk of a muscle injury when you take a few minutes to warm up before you exercise.
For professional athletes, a proper warmup can improve their performance during an event. You might not be concerned with how fast you can sprint 100 meters, but improving your overall performance can still benefit you.
“When you take the time to prepare your muscles for exercise, you can perform a little better during your workout today so that you can get stronger to push a little bit more tomorrow,” said Bangen.
To optimize your exercise, Bangen recommends these tips:
Make Your Warmup Active
Your warmup should be active, like 10 minutes on the treadmill or stationary bike, followed by some other added muscle movements. If you’re going for a run, don’t just jog to warm up — do some lateral shuffles or skips. If you’re doing resistance training, stretch and rotate your joints and muscles to make sure there’s no stiffness or pain before you add weight. For recreational activities like golf or softball, some mobility stretches in the back, hips and shoulders can get you ready to play. You should break a light sweat but not feel tired after your warmup.
Remember to Breathe
Flexibility isn’t limited to just your muscle capability. According to Bangen, the nervous system can also affect how deep you can stretch. Take deep breaths while you warm up and cool down to calm the nervous system and get the most out of your movements.
Finish with Stretching
Be sure and cool down after you exercise. It’s perfectly fine to start your workout with a few stretches, but stretching after your workout is a great way to relax your mind and body when your exercise is complete. If you’ve just finished a high-intensity workout like a hard run, walk for two or three minutes to help slow your heart rate before you start stretching.
“Getting your body ready for a workout and slowing it down afterward can be an enjoyable and beneficial transition,” said Bangen. “Think of it as one more way you can give your body the things it needs to be strong and healthy.”
Find out how you can improve your fitness and meet your goals by requesting an evaluation at The SAM. (Scroll to the bottom of the The SAM page for the online request form).
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