Sep 10, 2007

How important is the warm up and cool down in each cardio workout?

As I get older, I find that my answer, increasingly, is “more and more important!” In truth, performing a proper warm up and cool down for each cardio workout provide a variety of benefits. First, understand that a “proper” warm up and cool down that will enable maximum benefits depends on several variables such as current fitness level, age, activity to be performed, goal of the activity, etc. However, most literature would agree that for a recreational/intermediate exerciser a warm up lasting 3 - 15 minutes of continuous movement is appropriate. This warm up should gradually increase in intensity until the desired training intensity is achieved. Note that the warm up should, with few exceptions, be performed doing the same activity that will be performed during the training. A quick reference here to whether or not stretching should be a part of this routine. Most literature is now showing agreement that static stretching pre-activity may not significantly reduce injury and may actually decrease performance of activities involving power or speed (i.e. most sporting activities). So if those are your goals, spend the majority of your warm up performing activity specific movements and possibly utilizing a foam roller or “The Stick” for self-myofascial release to increase ROM [Range of Motion]. But if you’ve got an emotional attachment to static stretching... go for it! The benefits realized from warm up?

a. Increased utilization of fat for energy: allows for more efficient decreases in body fat and greater duration of cardio workouts.
b. Increased muscle temperature: decreases risk for injury and allows faster muscle contraction and relaxation.
c. Increased vasodilation/blood flow to working muscles: allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach muscle and clears wastes increasing exercise performance.
d. Decreased viscosity of joint synovial fluid: decreases joint friction.

Here’s an analogy I often use. Ever pull a rubber band out of the freezer and try to use it? If so, you’ve probably noticed that it is far more fragile and does not recoil as quickly when you stretch it. In many ways your muscles respond the same way without a warm up. The cool down should mirror the warm up in length and activity and provides much of the same benefits in reverse.

a. Gradual decreased blood flow and heart rate: decreases incidence of dizziness and fainting.
b. Clears wastes and byproducts from working muscles: decreases recovery time.
c. Decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: less soreness is experienced in the days following workout bouts.

I am a firm believer in the “something is better than nothing” philosophy of exercise. But there is also tremendous longterm value in adding a few extra minutes of warm up and cool down to increase performance and decrease recovery.

Written for SB Fitness Magazine Winter 2007 Issue (click here to visit site)

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