For busy moms and crazed hard workers, gym time is typically short and sweet. Why tack on an extra 10 minutes of warm-ups and cool-downs when all you have is 30 minutes to work out? Unfortunately, that mindset might actually hurt you. A proper warm-up and cool-down are a critical part of any fitness regimen. Warm-ups are essential to prepare the body for movement and exercise by increasing the heart rate and getting the muscles moving. Cool-downs reduce the heart rate slowly and help to ward off muscle stiffness by returning the body to its normal resting state. Warm-ups and cool-downs may feel like a hassle, but adding just five short minutes before and after your workouts can help reduce muscle strain and prevent injury.
Warm-ups don't need to be complicated or long. A short five to 10 minutes is all it takes to properly warm up the body for physical activity. Mayo Clinic explains that warm-ups gradually increase your heart rate, increase blood flow to muscles and raise your body's temperature. Jumping right into a workout may lead to an injury, so take the time to properly warm up your body first.
Warm-ups should be simple and should involve large muscles, such as the hamstrings. Warm-ups should also prepare you for the activity you will be performing. For example, if you are going to be running, begin with five to 10 minutes of slow walking that gradually increases to a faster walk. To warm up for strength training, move your muscles and joints by performing jumping jacks, air squats or arm circles. Just do anything to get your heart rate up, even if it means chasing your kids across the house first!
Cooling down after a workout is crucial to warding off muscle stiffness. Not only does a cool-down allow your heart rate to return to normal, but it also allows your muscles to slowly return to their normal state. Cool-downs are especially important after an intense workout. Stopping abruptly and not properly cooling down your muscles can lead to painful muscle soreness. So don't just plop on the floor after a tough workout -- keep those legs moving for a few minutes!
Cooling down is similar to a warm-up in that you continue the activity you are doing, just at a slower pace. For example, if you have been running, simply slow down to a brisk walk for five to 10 minutes. Another aspect of a cool-down is stretching. Consider adding small stretches to help blood flow to the muscles and prevent muscle soreness. Stretching may feel slightly uncomfortable, but it should never feel painful.
Kaitlin Condon is a holistic health coach and certified physical fitness/wellness specialist. She is a contributing health writer for the teen magazine "Miabella," as well as several online publications.