When you’re standing in the shower and you gradually turn down the hot tap, it’s an unpleasant but tolerable experience. Contrast that to standing in a hot shower, a family member turns a tap on somewhere else and the water goes cold instantly. Most would agree this is a very unpleasant experience. This is because the stress of the cold water is a shock to our body systems. Exercise is another form of stress - so it's important to discuss how to reduce the initial shock of starting exercise and perhaps what to do once exercise is finished. This blog is all about warming up and cooling down!
An adequate warm up leaves you feeling ready to exercise, increases your performance during exercise and reduces your risk of injury. Effective warm-ups include two important components:
General Activity consists of 5-10 minutes any low intensity exercise that serves to increase body temperature and heart rate. This may include activities like brisk walking, cycling or jogging on the spot.
Specific Preparation involves replicating the specific movements or exercises that you are going to be performing during the session. For example if you are going to be doing loaded squats in the workout, you might do bodyweight squats to better prepare the muscles, joints and coordination required for that task. Like the General Activity component, the specific preparation should be kept at a low intensity. It’s not beneficial to exhaust yourself prior to exercise.
The warm-up should be kept succinct - only 10-15 minutes maximum, and once it's finished you should feel ready to immediately commence the higher intensity exercise of the session. Note that neither component includes stretching or foam rolling as these don’t reliably provide any benefit and wastes time that could otherwise be spent exercising.
Cool-downs have long been a staple of exercise programs. However, the benefits are not really supported by the scientific evidence. Often thought to reduce injuries, prevent post exercise muscle soreness and stiffness, and reduce fatigue post exercise, the evidence has shown cool-downs to be largely ineffective for any of these goals.
Based on the lack of evidence, we don’t prescribe cool-downs following workouts. The body seems to do a good job of returning to its normal resting state on its own without performing a specific cool-down. We would much rather you spend that time on more resistance, cardiovascular or balance training that have proven health and fitness benefits!
However, if you enjoy performing some light exercise following a hard workout, are not time restricted and are already meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines, you are more than welcome to perform a cool-down. We suggest doing a light activity you enjoy for 5-10 minutes - this might be walking, some gentle floor to ceiling reaches or even some yoga.