The obvious reason for preparing your body for a workout and then gradually cooling down afterwards is injury prevention. I mean we don’t want to cut our workout short just for lack of preparation, nor do we want to be paying for it for days afterwards. Yet there are other reasons why both a warm up and cool down is an important consideration when planning your workout.
Both help create better flexibility, enhance strength development and improve circulation.
The Warm Up:
The basic idea behind warming the body up before exercise is twofold. Firstly by gradually increasing your heart rate you are ensuring that your heart and lungs are effectively working together to pump enough oxygen around your body. This oxygen is needed to fuel your muscles and have them working at their optimal capacity. Secondly; by warming up the different muscles you are actually making them more flexible and pliant, at the same time as stimulating mobility in your joints. This will help prepare your body and protect you against injury.
The type of warmup needed will be determined by the type of workout you have planned. For example if you are going for a long run you should concentrate on warming up you your legs with a few stretches and the start off gradually with a power walk, then progress into a gentle jog before giving it 100%.
If you are going to do a targeted weights or floor session, it is a good idea to get your heart rate up first. You can do this easily with some skipping, rowing or light jogging. Then take your focus to stretching and preparing the areas you plan to work on.
Stretching Out or Cooling Down:
Cooling down from a workout allows your heart rate to gradually return to normal, your muscles to return to their normal length and tension, your body to flush away any lactic acid and waste products from your muscles back into your circulatory system and also prevents blood from pooling in your limbs.
The idea is to gradually reduce your heart rate whilst stretching and working the soft tissue that has been the focus of the workout. Basically releasing any tension caused during the workout. This helps to reduce tightness, cramping and general muscle aches in the days following your workout. Even though the need for cooling down has been debated amongst fitness professionals in recent years, I know that I always feel much better when I cool down after a long run and stretch out after a hard resistance session. And if it feels good, then I am going to stick with it!