Does your walk to the gym count as your warm up?
Will you combust if you don't cool down after a gym session or workout class?
Why do your warm up and cool down matter?
You may have heard it before, and I'm here to tell you again; it is always a good idea to incorporate a warm up and a cool down into your workouts. Sometimes you get lucky and have a class instructor/ personal trainer who will incorporate these into your classes and workouts for you so that you have one less thing to think about! Still...why do your warm up and cool down matter?
Let's dive in to the SIX ways that your warm up and cool down matter, and get started with a basic warm up and cool down routine too.
You aren't going safely squat your bodyweight straight out of the office.
I hate to break it to you, but you aren't going to be able to squat twice your bodyweight five minutes after you've logged off from work. 1) Your muscles aren't ready, 2) Your circulation isn't ready, and 3) Your mental space isn't ready either!
Your muscles aren't ready- Do you have low back pain/ crunchy hips when you stand up from your desk? No? Just me? Cool...whether you're a morning gym warrior or a late night gym raver, your muscles aren't exactly ready for what's about to happen. Imagine logging into your work laptop without checking your emails, or putting a frozen meal in the oven that you turned on after the fact. Like, stupid stuff, right? Same goes for your body. Your muscles need a moment to prepare and coordinate so that you can exercise effectively, and perform your exercise with a minimized risk of injury. By warming up in a dynamic fashion, you're introducing the concept of coordinated movement to your muscles, so that neurotransmitters from your brain to the skeletal tissue understand where to go and how quickly they need to do so.
Your circulation isn't ready- Say you're in a 45 minute spin class. You go in, barely glistening from the commute to the spin studio, and by ten minutes into class you're feeling the sweat come already (a goooood feeling). This is because your body temperature is rising. As you warm up, your body increases blood circulation throughout all corners of your physical being- hence the increase in body temperature and blood pressure. This increase in circulation is vital to your being able to exercise! Blood transports much needed oxygen to your muscles so that they can work and metabolize ATP for energy.
Your mindset isn't ready- This couples with the injury prevention concept mentioned above; your warm up wakes up your muscles, as well as your mindset. If you think you're going to have success stumbling into the gym and deadlifting whilst trying to think about your to do list for the day...think again (although, I've definitely been guilty of that AFTER I warmed up)! You absolutely need to take the time, in a dynamic warmup, to get your mindset right. What is the goal of the time in front of you? Do you have a plan of action? How can you focus and get the most out of the time you have set aside for yourself to engage in this activity?
Your workout is in pursuit of more than "just" a physical goal or "just" mental health benefit. Your time is more valuable than just that. Warm up gets you in the right headspace and prepares you physically for making the most of the time you have to sweat.
Exercise stimulates a healthy stress response, but you still need to de stress from it.
You've had the workout; you've conquered the spin class; you've set a new PR- YES, you did it! Now what?
Hop in the shower, rush off to work. OR hop in the car, pick the kids up from swimming, rush home to make sure everyone is fed and gets their homework done AND you have to prep for meetings tomorrow! 1) You deserve recognition for your accomplishments, 2) You can't put out a fire with ice, and 3) Your hormones need to cool down too.
You deserve recognition for your accomplishments- It is SO programmed into us in today's "go go go" world to get the gym session done, tick the box, walk out the door and on to the next thing. Don't be like that! Take a moment to reflect on what went well, what surprised you, what you're hopeful will go better next time. You have to acknowledge these things because it impacts how you treat yourself as well as how you continue to move forward to make progress to your goals. It's like a science experiment: define your question, make predictions, gather data, analyze your data in order to draw conclusions. Same thing applies when it comes to exercise!
You can't put out fire with ice- You've spent at least thirty minutes working out. You are toasty from head to toe, inside to out. You're sweating (maybe a little, maybe a lot), and your blood is PUMPING through every vein with an elevated blood pressure. Giving time to a cool down safely lowers your heart rate and allows your blood pressure to return to normal. The cool down period also helps to remove lactic acid buildup in your muscles, which minimizes stiffness/ soreness/ muscle cramps a few hours to a few days post workout. No one likes walking around like a three-legged Bambi, do they?
Your hormones need to cool down too- Exercise is GREAT for stress because it conditions your body to create a healthy response to stress. Exercise is an acute stressor on the body (unlike working in management for corporate America, which is a chronic stressor), encouraging your body to fight with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In order for you to get the most out of adapting to a stressor, you have to allow your hormones to return to normal. This happens as you cool down and focus on bringing your breath and heart rate back down to normal. The time given to hormones during your cool down improves gut motility, enhances parasympathetic nervous system dominance, and encourages a better adaptation to stress load in the longer term.
So, what makes for an effective warm up and cool down?
Here's an easy, effective, warm up and cool down routine that you can use before a strength workout, after a HIIT class, and anywhere in between.
Hip CARS- 8 reps each leg
Quadruped shoulder rolls- 8 reps each direction
Cat/ cow- 8 breath cycles
Bodyweight hinge to squat- 8 reps
Plank walkouts- 8 reps
Jumping jacks- 16 reps
(repeat twice through)
Seated spinal twist- 30 seconds each side
Sumo squat stretch- 30 seconds
Standing quad stretch- 30 seconds each leg
Supine knee into chest- 30 seconds each side
Thread the needle- 30 seconds each side
Child's pose- as long as you like
(repeat twice through)