It can be easy to forget to the importance of a good warm-up and cool down when training, especially if you are pushed for time. However, these components of a workout are just as important as the workout itself, especially for injury prevention and optimal recovery.
Warming up increases body temperature, heart rate and blood flow to working muscles. This means an increase in oxygen delivery to working tissues and faster removal of harmful by-products. A good warm-up will also stimulate nerve impulses around the body, allowing muscles, tendons and ligaments to respond to different stimuli. This, alongside increased muscle flexibility will assist in the prevention of sporting injuries such as muscle strains. Efficient warm-ups should start low in intensity and gradually increase to build up the heart rate. They should also include dynamic stretches and activation exercises to stimulate important stabilising muscles in the glutes and core for example.
Cooling down tends to be skipped more often than warm-ups; however, it is equally important. Cooling down allows the body to regulate heart rate, blood pressure and temperature back to resting levels and promotes muscle recovery. Whilst exercising, muscle fibres, tendons and ligaments are stressed and will often become damaged. This damage, along with a build-up of lactic acid, causes pain and stiffness in the days following a workout which is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Although cooling down does not prevent this, as it is important for muscle adaptation, it does lessen the sensation and allows for a faster recovery. Static stretching in a cool down will also gradually improve muscle flexibility which can prevent future injuries. An effective cool down includes a low intensity cardio exercise, followed by static stretching.