Say you’re beginning a road-trip. You hop in your car, pull it out of the garage, and immediately floor the gas pedal, turn the air conditioning on high, and blast the radio to full volume. You maintain this same intensity all the way to your final destination, where you abruptly stop, exit your car, slam the door, and walk away. How long do you think your car will handle this sort of abuse before it breaks down? Perhaps you should have slowly progressed into top speed, then given your car a bit of easy driving after intense highway speeds?
Your body is no different than that car. Before you subject it to physical exertion, whether lifting weights, running, bicycling, or playing tennis or golf, you must prepare it for performance. And when you finish your exercise, you must give your body a gradual progression from movement back to sitting in your car, at your desk, or on your couch. In this section, you’ll learn why you should warm up and cool down before a workout, and the exact exercises and stretches— at the right intensity— necessary for a proper warm-up and cool-down.
Why Do I Need to Warm Up Before Exercise? When you warm up, several positive adaptations take place within your body to prepare you for exercise, including:
Dilation of blood vessels. As your blood vessels dilate, or get bigger, your heart doesn’t have to work so hard to deliver blood, and you have a lower risk of high blood pressure during exercise.
Increased temperature. When you stretch a cold rubber band, it can snap and break. The same is true of muscle. By warming your muscle tissue, you increase muscle elasticity and range of motion, and you also allow your muscle to contract more efficiently while reducing the risk of strains and pulls. In addition, oxygen in warm blood becomes more readily available to muscle tissue.
Better cooling. In the same way that the air conditioning in your car works more efficiently when your car is warmed up, your body’s built-in cooling mechanism is optimized when you break a sweat during your warm-up.
Hormone production. As you warm up, your body begins producing hormones like epinephrine, endorphins, growth hormone and testosterone, all of which increase the energy available for your workout.
Mental focus. Clearing your head with a warm-up allows you to focus more on the difficult or technical exercise or movements that will occur during your physical activity, and it also gives you a chance to mentally review your workout, game, or match.
Why Do I Need to Cool Down After Exercise? As you progress to your cool-down after the workout, your body is given a chance to slowly allow the heart rate to return to normal. That is important, since you’re most susceptible to cardiovascular problems after a workout when you plop onto the couch or into your car as blood pools in your heart and extremities. When you cool down, you give that blood a chance to re-circulate throughout your body, which also reduces your risk of fainting and dizziness. A good cool-down also significantly reduces your post-exercise soreness and stiffness,