Importance of Workout Warm Up and Cool Down

Whether you’re going for a run, taking a dance class, or lifting weights, they all should start the same way – with a solid workout warm up. Warming up the body is crucial to not only prepare for your workout, but to maximize performance throughout. While some may argue that the sole purpose of warming up is to prevent injury, there is actually much more to a warm up.

Workout warm ups help to increase blood flow throughout the body, sending oxygen to key muscle groups and increasing the body’s core temperature. This helps increase range of motion of muscles and joints and starts circulating key components for performance to the body’s muscles, such as oxygen.

Workout warm ups also help prepare the central nervous system for movements that are to come in the workout. For example, if you plan on doing weighted squats in a workout, it would be a good idea to do some body weight squats in your warm up to start sending those signals from your brain to your muscles and allow for more efficient communication in the body.

If all of this sounds a little complicated, let me break it down. I once had the importance of warming up explained to me by a coach through the analogy of string cheese. If you get a piece of string cheese cold, out of the fridge, and pull it from both ends, it snaps in half. But – if you take that string cheese, pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds to heat it up, then pull it from both sides, it stretches and moves in all different directions without breaking, and quite frankly, it is more delicious.

Ok, makes sense. So, where to start? Here are some workout warm up tips:

  • Research recommends that about 15 minutes immediately prior to exercise, you should begin to warm up and prepare the body for the work ahead. If you’re short on time, 5 minutes will do, but be sure to warm up none the less.
  • Start with a combination of foam rolling (if you have a roller), light cardio, and dynamic stretches/movements.
  • Make sure that in your warm up you prepare the whole body, but also give a little attention to the areas or movements that you plan to focus on in your workout (ex: upper body or lower body).

Here’s an easy, total-body, no equipment workout warm up:

  1. Bird Dog (45 seconds each side): This activates the core and starts to work through range of motion in the spine.
  2. Plank to Down Dog (60 seconds): A great move to warm up the back, core, arms and shoulders while getting an active stretch through the hamstrings.
  3. Jump Rope (120 seconds): An easy cardio move to start getting the heart pumping, blood flowing, and temperature rising.
  4. Arm Circles (30 seconds each direction): This one is my favorite to open up the shoulders, chest, and back.
  5. V Squat (60 seconds): This move will warm up the legs and glutes, while engaging the back, core, and shoulders. It’s also a great move to start checking your form (ex: knees directly over toes, weight in your heels, etc)
  6. Step Over (60 seconds): This low-impact cardio move is great for getting the heart pumping while opening up the hip flexors.
  7. Sumo Touch Down (60 seconds) : Now that the body is warm it’s time to go a little bit deeper into the range of motion of the hip flexors and legs.
  8. Reverse Lunge with Reach (60 seconds alternating sides): Not only is this opening up your legs and side body, but it forces you to engage your stabilizing muscles and test your balance.
  9. Leg Swings (30 seconds each side): Finally, leg swings for a deep hip stretch and balance challenge.

The Importance of Cooling Down

The purpose of cooling down after a workout is to allow your body to slowly return to its pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Cool down is particularly important for endurance athletes or after a cardio workout to ensure blood flow returns to normal and that blood doesn’t pool in lower extremities.

Post-workout, some light walking, dynamic stretches (ex: shifting side to side in a lateral lunge), and deep breathing can help restore blood rate and pressure and prevent pooling of blood in the legs.  

There is still conflicting and limited research showing whether or not stretching post-workout can help reduce soreness or muscle fatigue, but if you want to take advantage of your warm muscles and stretch post workout as part of your flexibility routine, you can do a series of stretching, holding a position for 10-30 seconds 2-4x.

A post-workout cool down could look something like this:

  • Light walk 3-5 minutes
  • Shoulder rolls front and back
  • Body weight squat (slow pace) x 10
  • Cross Body Arm Stretch
  • Overhead Tricep Stretch
  • Split Stance Ham String Stretch (shifting weight back and forth)
  • Figure 4 Stretch, seated or standing 
  • Seated Hamstring Stretch
  • World’s Greatest Stretch
  • Kneeling Quad Stretch with Reach