I was looking through my notes and realized that I never really spent the time to actually discuss proper warm-ups and cool-downs. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the value of warm-ups and cool-downs. For example, some trainers believe that a warm-up may impact your workout, preventing you from hitting your maximum potential.
So, let’s get to the bottom of this.
What is the Importance of a Warm Up?
A pre-workout warm-up may be valuable because it gets your muscles ready for the upcoming activity. I say “may be” because there’s been some debate about this recently.
As I mentioned, there are some trainers that believe a warm-up may hinder your workouts. But most experts in the field believe that a warm-up can only help and not harm.
Why might a warm-up help? Well, by warming up you get your blood flowing to the muscles you will be using during your workout. Warming up actually does warm up your body too by increasing the body’s internal temperature. We’re learning that this helps the body get into energy burning mode which means the body may begin to make its energy sources, like sugar and fat, available to burn for the actual workout. And, by warming up your muscles, you may reduce your risk for injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a proper warm-up should last anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes, involve large muscle groups and be performed at a light to moderate intensity. For example, say you plan on going for a run. You'd warm up by first walking then jogging at a slow pace. Or, if you have access to some stationary cardio machines, you could use an elliptical, or a stationary bike, or a row machine.
But let’s say someone wants to warm-up with the ultimate goal of going for a walk — are you supposed to jog before you walk? No. A proper warm-up according to the American College of Sports Medicine would mean you would need walk at a slower pace for 5-10 minutes and then increase your walking speed after the warm-up is over.
How Do I Warm Up Before Resistance Training?
The American College of Sports Medicine’s warm-up recommendations for resistance training don’t differ all that much.
Before performing resistance exercises, you can perform a similar warm-up, like walking, jogging, using the elliptical, row machine, stationary bike, etc. for 5-10 minutes at a low to moderate intensity. Then, before you work a particular set of muscles, perform 1 set using a light weight.
For example, say you’re going to work your arm muscles, specifically your biceps. Your warm-up could be set-up something like this: walk at a light to moderate pace (for most that’s around 3.3 to 3.5 mph) for 10 minutes. Then, walk over to your weights and perform 1 set of biceps curls using a weight that you can lift at least 15 times. Then, proceed to your workout.
What are Creative Warm Up Exercises?
Now, here’s the deal. There are so many creative ways to warm-up your muscles. Mark Twight, whom I’ve mentioned on this podcast many times before — he trained the actors in the movie 300 to look like Spartan warriors, he trained Henry Cavill to have the body of Superman for the Man of Steel and Justice League films — he likes his athletes to perform a 10 minute cardiovascular warm-up like rowing, running, riding a stationary bike, using an elliptical machine… you know, all of the stuff that I just mentioned.
This is then followed up with exercises that target specific muscle groups that are going to be used during the actual workout. Let’s say your workout today is going to include some squats, bench presses and barbell rows to strengthen your back muscles. Mark Twight might have you first go for a 10-minute run. After the run, he may have you perform 20 squats with no weight, 20 push-ups to get you ready for the bench presses, and 5 pull-ups to get your back muscles warmed up. Then, you’ll repeat these same exercises: another 20 squats with no weight, 20 push-ups and 5 more pull-ups. Now, you’re ready for your actual workout.
So again, you can get really creative with your warm-ups. The goal is to get your body ready for the upcoming workout and reduce your risk for injury. Now, I can’t talk about warm-ups without also addressing the importance of the cool-down and stretch period after.
Why is Cooling Down Important?
A cool-down also prevents injury and will help stabilize blood pressure and heart rate after the workout.
Sometimes, abruptly stopping a really tough workout can make us feel a little dizzy or lightheaded. A cool-down can help prevent or relieve those symptoms. (If it doesn’t and you still feel dizzy, stop what you’re doing, lie down, and elevate your feet!). The recommendations for cool-downs are very similar to the warm-up: perform a lighter intensity cardiovascular movement (like walking) for about 5 minutes.
Now is the best time to perform your stretches. It's better to stretch after cooling down. You can read more on my blog post on how to reduce muscle soreness while stretching.
Now your workout is officially over! Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!