Contrary to popular practice, proper warm-ups and cool-downs are "must dos," not "if time allows."
I get it: warm-ups and cool-downs can feel like unsexy time zappers, and diversions from the actual intense sweat session. Plus, when you finish the workout, you just want to get on with life; it's natural to think, "Phew ... done ... shower!"
The problem is, there's a reason why a proper workout has been broken down into three main components: warm-up, main workout and cool-down.
The warm-up preps your mind and body for the work that is to come. An appropriate warm-up can be the difference between an awesome workout and quitting after five minutes.
As for the cool-down, your body and brain require a gradual decrease in effort to come back to homeostasis. Stop too quickly and you risk feeling nauseated, plus it's not good for your heart. Skipping the stretch also puts you at risk of feeling sore for days.
Warm-up: general overview
- Start working at just above "normal life pace" — roughly a four out of 10 intensity. Slowly build to the intensity you will start your workout at.
-The warm-up should match the goals of your workout. So, if you're weight training, your warm-up might be a few dynamic stretches, and then "marking" each of your weight training moves. For example, if your plan involves weighted squats, your warm-up would include body-weight squats. Once warmed up, you add weight. If your goal is running, your warm-up would be jogging and dynamic stretches.
-Always "build" to what is hard for you. So, if squatting with no weight is hard for you, your warm-up might be exercises such as partial range squats and dynamic stretches. These build your capacity towards full body-weight squats.
-Budget five to eight minutes. The worse your cardiovascular health, the longer the warm-up.
-Do dynamic stretches, not static ones. Dynamic mobility exercises involve motion, and therefore prime the body for whatever activity follows.
-On any cardio machine, spend five minutes gradually building from a four out of 10 intensity to a six out of 10 intensity. Then try a few light intervals. For example, alternate 30 seconds at a seven out of 10 intensity, with 30 seconds at a six out of 10 intensity. Repeat for three to five minutes.
-Pick five different old-school aerobic moves (high knees, bum kicks, step taps, etc). Do each move for one minute. Or dance. Finish with a few dynamic stretches.
-Incorporate balance. For six minutes, alternate one minute of step-ups on the Bosu with one minute of marching on the Bosu.
As you perform your physical warm-up, get into the right headspace. Two of my favourites pep talks are, "You're always in a better mood after a workout. Don't think, just do!" and, "This hour will pass regardless. You can quit and feel lousy. Or, you can give it your all and feel great and accomplished for the rest of the day."
Cool-down: general overview
-Budget three to eight minutes. Gradually decrease intensity. The harder the workout, the longer the cool-down. A light walk requires almost no cool down. After intense running intervals, take five to 10 minutes; gradually move from normal running to jogging to walking.
-If you have a pre-existing injury, use the cool-down to complete appropriate physio exercises. Tight quads? Stretch them. History of plantar fasciitis? Use the small ball on your feet. Know your body. Do you.
-If the workout left you aware of any one part of your body, take a moment to appropriately stretch or roll the part.
-If you're chronically hypermobile, don't overstretch. Use a four out of 10 intensity.
-Do static stretches, not dynamic. Since static stretches are static, they cool down the nervous and muscular-skeletal systems.
-Take the opportunity for a mindfulness moment. For example, lie on the floor or on a foam roller and breathe.
Some favourite moves
Hip-flexor stretch: On mat. Right leg behind you, knee on mat. Left leg forward in lunge. Both feet facing forwards. Feel the stretch up the front of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs. (If you sit at a desk, this is for you.)
Foam roller calf massage: Sit on the floor with the roller under your calves, perpendicular to your body. Lift your bum slightly off the ground. Roll forwards and backwards so the roller moves up and down your lower legs. Experiment. Rotate your legs side to side slightly as you move. (If you run, this is for you.)
Small ball foot massage: Place the ball under the ball of your little toe. Roll the ball lengthwise up and down the outside of your foot from little toe to heel. Move the ball under your big toe; roll it lengthwise up and down the inside of your foot. Finally, curl your toes around the ball. Release and spread your toes. I use yoga tune-up balls — they are hard enough to be effective, but soft enough not be painful. For a less-expensive alternative, try a lacrosse ball (press gently — this is intense) or tennis ball.
More from Kathleen Trotter:
While using the ball and roller, when you find a trigger point, stop and put gentle pressure down into the tissue. Expect to feel sensations, but never roll though "negative pain"; the pain should never take your breath away or feel like electricity or numbness.
A healthier body is out there, but health is "made not found;" consciously make choices today that will result in a healthier, fitter version of you. Create this healthier (less stiff) version of you, one warm-up and cool-down at a time!!