Effective Exercise: The right way to warm up and cool down

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When you’re pressed for time, it’s easy to think that skipping a warm-up, cool-down and stretch might be the most efficient way to work out, right?

Big mistake. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, taking some time to allow your body to ease in and out of things — even if it means shortening the actual workout — will actually help you reach your goals faster.

How? It’s simple, really: Focusing on flexibility can lower your risk for injury, so you’ll be able to keep a more consistent workout schedule, thus obtaining better results in the long run.

I’ve talked before about several other benefits to warming up and cooling down, but here are some specifics to consider before your next sweat session.

Ideal Workout Sequence: 

  1. Warm-up: 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio to get blood pumping
  2. Light stretching: Mix gentle and dynamic moves to prime body for performance
  3. Intense Exercise: Attack the workout confidently now that you’re loose and limber!
  4. Deep stretching: Take advantage of warm muscles, which are more pliable
  5. Cool-down: 5-10 more minutes of low-intensity cardio to bring heart rate down

How to Warm Up:

Gradually increase intensity. If you’re going to run, for example, progress from a fast walk to a jog to a run. For biking, start in a low gear and allow legs to spin out before adding elements of speed and resistance. And if you’re lifting, try a series of light weights before progressing to several sets at your goal weight.

Wake up your brain. Get your mind and body in sync for workouts or sports that require hand-eye coordination or fancy footwork. Add some balance and agility drills to activate your reflexes, which will help you respond and react better during peak activity.

Include dynamic movements. After your body is warmed up and you’ve done a few static stretches, move onto dynamic stretching, which takes your body through its full range of motion and should include things like arm and legs swings, torso twists, jumping jacks or fast running.

How to Cool Down:

Gradually decrease intensity. Reverse the progression, whether it’s slowing from a run to a jog to a walk, allowing legs to spin out at a slower speed on low resistance or doing a few sets of easier exercises with lbs in the weight room.

Think loose, long and lean. It’s time to reward muscles for a job well done by allowing them to relax into some deep stretches that speed circulation to joints and tissues, remove unwanted waste products and reduce soreness and stiffness.

Refuel and replenish. Within an hour (really, the sooner the better), drink up and eat up. Use water to rehydrate, and aim for a snack with a carb/protein ratio of 4:1 for maximum benefit when it comes to repairing muscles and restoring energy levels.

Do you bookend your workouts with a warm-up and cool-down for better results? 

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