The art of warming up and downAge teaches many valuable lessons. But one of the most important for athletes is how the increasing vulnerability of our bodies underlines just how important it is to warm up and cool down when we exercise.
Don’t get us wrong – it is important to warm up and cool down at any age, and regardless of your fitness levels. You’ll never see a 20 year old sprinter just wandering out of the changing rooms at the Olympics and straight into a race. Whatever our age, we need to prepare properly for what we are about to do. The issue as we get older is that we have less and less margin for error – the things we can get away with when we’re 25 just don’t work when we’re 45.
So, the bottom line is that warming up and down is important – but what might not be quite so clear is exactly why we need to do it. The basic principles are these.
A double benefit
By warming up before we exercise, we’re doing a couple of things. The first is that we’re getting our heart pumping just a little faster. That’s preparing it for the activity to come, but it is also starting the process of getting more blood pumping around your body. As your circulation increases in around your joints and muscles, you become more flexible and your muscles are getting ready to move once you start exercising.
But when we warm up, we often also stretch our muscles – which also gets them in the right shape for the activity we’re about to do.
There’s another benefit to warming up properly too – and that’s on the mental side of things. When we take the time to warm up we’re also giving ourselves the space to transition into the activity, not just physically but also in terms of our focus. Anyone who has done any sport at all will understand just how important the mental side of it is, and warming up plays a key role in this.
Time to cool down
But what about cooling down?
Often, when we’re tired, it is the last thing we want to do. Most of us just want to grab a quick shower and get some food inside us – but warming down is just as important as warming up. Obviously, most of the benefits are simply the reverse of warming up – it returns our heartbeat to something like normal, and gives our muscles a chance to relax back into shape. But it’s also a chance for our muscles to get rid of some of the lactic acid that builds up when we exercise hard.
Again, warming down also serves as an important opportunity to bring our minds back into every day life. We can reflect on how we performed while we were exercising, and begin to reconnect with the world around us.
We’re often asked about what pre- and post exercise routines we recommend, and the one we always suggest is one of the very simplest. Our advice is simply to walk a little before you run, or on your way to working out at the gym. Walking is a great way to gently begin to raise your heart beat and warm up your muscles.
And of course, if you’re feeling really good (and you think no one is watching) you can always throw in a few dynamic lunges as you walk, just for good measure.