Warming up and cooling down are frequently neglected in many training programmes. Time pressures make it tempting to skip a warm-up, but you do so at your peril. Warming up is essential because it gets your entire body set for strenuous work whilst reducing the possibility of injury as well as improving your potential to learn and develop.
A warm-up need take no longer than 20 minutes; begin by skipping, jogging, or working on a cross-trainer for 10 minutes, and then carry out 10 minutes of mobilization exercises. Consistently warming up will improve your level of performance.
They are an ideal way to prepare for a workout because they minimize muscle stiffness and help reduce the chance of injury. As you become more advanced and flexible, you can add a controlled swing to push a body part past its usual range of movement. The force in the swing can be steadily enhanced but should not become too severe.
Warm up is not the time for static stretches – those in which you put your body into a position where the target muscles are under tension. Indeed, using static stretches before a workout may reduce your capacity to release power and does little or nothing to minimize the chances of injury.
When you have finished your workout, you should bring your body back down to its pre-exercise state in a controlled manner. During a workout, your body is under stress; muscles get damaged and waste products build up. A good cool-down will help your body to repair itself.
Cooling down doesn’t have to be a long process: begin with 10-15 minutes of light running or possibly walking, which in turn lowers the body temperature and also enable the waste elements to be taken off from your muscles. Try out this with 10-15 minutes of static stretches, which assist your muscles to rest as well as the muscle fibres to re-align and re-establish their standard array of motion. To carry out a static stretch, extend the target muscle(s) as far as it can comfortably go, easing into the stretch, and then maintain that posture for around 10 seconds.
Post-exercise static stretching is controversial. Some suggest the cool-down phase of the workout is an ideal time for “developmental stretching”, which is designed to increase muscle flexibility and your range of movement. Developmental stretches have the same form as simple static stretches: you first hold the static stretch for around 10 seconds, then take the stretch a little further – 1-2cm (1/2 in) will do – and hold for another 20-30 seconds.
Others propose that stretching a muscle after exercise may actually increase muscle damage and delay recovery. Picture a muscle like a pair of tights. Following intense exercise the muscle is full of small micro-tears which are akin to small nicks in the tights. Stretching a muscle at this point is like stretching the tights; possibly not good news. A happy medium may be some light, gentle developmental stretching after you workout for muscles that feel particularly tight. Don’t compare yourself to others in the gym – some people have great mobility and you could be in trouble if you try to match their range of movement.