The art of warming up and down

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.

Jurg Widmer Probst

tips for rest days and recovery runs

TIt is one of the strangest sights in sport. Right in the middle of the toughest cycle race on the planet, the riders in the Tour de France have a rest day.

Now, there are plenty of things that we can imagine doing on a rest day after a few thousand kilometres of hard cycling (if we ever got that far) – a spot of sightseeing maybe, a gentle walk or maybe just lying down in a dark room for a few hours. But pretty much the last thing we would want to do is get on a bike again: which is why it is always so odd to see so many of the pro cyclists either out on a ‘short’ training ride or grinding away on a spin bike. But this is what they do – and like every other aspect of their training and racing it is all a part of a carefully planned out system to keep them in the very peak of condition.

Now, we’re not suggesting that any of you are going to be taking part in one of cycling’s Grand Tours any time soon – but the professional riders’ example does offer an interesting angle on the importance of rest and recovery days as we all try to get fitter and perform at our best. So, here are a few quick tips on making the most of those rest and recovery days.

Take them, don’t skip them

It is very easy to give rest and recovery days a miss when you are feeling great. It is particularly hard when you have just taken up a new sport or activity – it feels good, it makes you feel better, and you just want to keep doing it. But it is incredibly important to take a break from time to time – we would suggest at least one day a week off if you can, and maybe even more frequently if you’re just starting out at running.

You don’t always have to put your feet up

There is a difference between rest days (which are pretty much what they sound like) and recovery days, which usually include a ‘recovery run’ of some sort. The principle behind these – a little like the rides that the Tour de France riders do – is to give your body time to repair itself while keeping it moving. The idea here is to run at around half your normal speed, and by keeping the muscles moving and the blood pumping you should actually be recovering even more quickly than you would on a day on the sofa. 

Mix it up

When you are running, don’t run at your limit all the time. While it is good to push yourself, we really don’t recommend that you do it every day. Depending on how many days each week that you are heading out, we suggest that you make at least three of your weekly runs at ‘recovery’ pace. It is all about building some variation into your routine – not only does a change of pace help your body to repair itself, but it also keeps things more interesting.

Don’t just rest on your rest days

‘Rest’ in this context doesn’t just mean sitting in front of the TV all day. Even if you don’t do a recovery run, we still recommend that you try to get out and do some form of gentle exercise. We’re huge fans of walking here – it is a great way to warm up and cool down before and after a run, but it is also a perfect way to keep moving without too much of that damaging impact you get when running.

Listen to what your body is trying to tell you

Our final tip is just learn how to listen to your body when you’re not on a rest day, in order to make sure that you take the breaks you need, when you need them.

We always recommend running without headphones – not only is it safer, but it is also a way for you to focus solely on your body, how it is moving and how it feels as you run, without any distractions. While you hopefully won’t literally hear your body cracking and groaning under the pressure of running, you should certainly feel more in tune with it – so listen honestly to the feedback it is giving you, and do the right thing.

Jurg Widmer Probst