Warming up and cooling down

Posted: January 4, 2011 in Training

Most athletes perform some type of regular warm up and cool down during training. Stretching is not warming up! It is, however, a very important part of warming up. Warming up is quite literally the process of “warming up” (i.e., raising your core body temperature). A proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by one or two degrees CelsiusA proper warm up can increase the blood flow to the working muscle which results in decreased muscle stiffness, less risk of injury and improved performance. Additional benefits of warming up include physiological and psychological preparation.


Benefits of a Proper Warm Up:

  • Increased Muscle Temperature – The temperature increases within muscles that are used during a warm up routine. A warmed muscle both contracts more forcefully and relaxes more quickly. In this way both speed and strength can be enhanced. Also, the probability of overstretching a muscle and causing injury is far less.
  • Increased Body Temperature – This improves muscle elasticity, also reducing the risk of strains and pulls.
  • Blood Vessels Dilate – This reduces the resistance to blood flow and lower stress on the heart.
  • Improve Efficient Cooling – By activating the heat-dissipation mechanisms in the body (efficient sweating) an athlete can cool efficiently and help prevent overheating early in the event or race.
  • Increased Blood Temperature – The temperature of blood increases as it travels through the muscles, and as blood temperature rises, the amount of oxygen it can hold becomes reduced. This means a slightly greater volume of oxygen is made available to the working muscles, enhancing endurance and performance.
  • Improved Range of Motion – The range of motion around a joint is increase thus having more flexibility.
  • Hormonal Changes – Your body increases its production of various hormones responsible for regulating energy production. During warm up this balance of hormones makes more carbohydrates and fatty acids available for energy production.
  • Mental Preparation – The warm up is also a good time to mentally prepare for an event by clearing the mind, increasing focus, reviewing skills and strategy.


A warm up should consist of the following sequentially:

Pulse raiser:

The pulse raiser is the first part of a warm-up and can be any activity which can be used to gradually increase the heart rate. Jogging is a good example because it requires no equipment at all and can begin at a very slow speed and gradually increase. Other good choices are cycling and skipping. Do bear in mind that it is always a good idea to perform a warm-up which is most similar in terms of movement patterns to the sport you are preparing for.

Active stretching of muscles:

Stretches are an important part of any warm-up programme. They should be performed after the pulse raiser as by then the muscles are warmer and so more elastic, reducing the likelihood of injury.

There is debate surrounding the best method of stretching, but the general consensus now is that dynamic stretching (sometimes called active stretching) is most appropriate. Dynamic stretching is the use of movement to stretch muscles before a workout or athletic competition. It relies on controlled leg and arm swings rather than momentum that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion to engage the muscles, rather than holding a stretch at a standstill.

Sports specific drills

It is important to rehearse common movement patterns and skills which will be used in the workout or training. This will not only help to improve performance through ensuring the muscles are prepared for the task in hand, but will also help to improve co-ordination, reaction times and accuracy.


Cooling down

This is also often overlooked in favour of a drink in the bar but can help avoid injuries and boost performance. The aim of the cool down is to:

  • Gradually lower heart rate.
  • Circulate blood and oxygen to muscles, restoring them to the condition they were in before exercise.
  • Reduce the risk of blood pooling by maintaining muscle action and heart rate to pump blood back to the heart.
  • Remove waste products such as lactic acid.
  • Reduce the risk of muscle soreness.

The cool down should consist of a gentle jog, decreasing in speed down to a walk followed by light static stretching. Static stretches are more appropriate to the cool down as they help muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re-establish their normal range of movement. Remember to stretch all muscle groups used in the sport. Static stretching  involves gradually easing into the stretch position and holding the position. The amount of time a static stretch is held depends on your objectives. If it is part of your cool down then stretches should be held for 10 seconds, if it is to improve your range of mobility then hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Often in static stretching, you are advised to move further into the stretch position as the stretch sensation subsides.


Sports Massage

Sports massage can be used as part of either a warm-up or a cool down. During a warm-up a short massage can help to warm and stretch the muscles and get the blood pumping, ready for exercise. It can also help to prepare you mentally.

A post-exercise massage helps to remove waste products such as lactic acid which build up during exercise, and prevent blood pooling. It will aso help stretch the muscles and return them to their pre-exercise state!


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