I had a coach once tell me that the two biggest mistakes people make at the gym are not going enough and doing too much when they do get there. I would add a third mistake to his list: skipping an appropriate warm up and cool down before and after your exercise.
A recent study found that more than 25 percent of recreational runners training for a 4 mile event experienced at least one running-related-injury over the course of their 8 weeks of training.1 In another retrospective study, upwards of 50 percent of adolescent power lifters reported at some point having an injury to their lower back over the course of their training.2 Thankfully, there is good news. Performing an appropriate warm up can significantly reduce likelihood and risk of injury,3 allowing us all to continue hitting the road and gym to achieve our fitness goals. Below you’ll find four tips for a good warm up/cool down for the next time you have a workout scheduled.
There is a popularly held belief out there that performing a static stretch before an exercise will somehow loosen you up and reduce risk of injury. We now know that just the opposite is true and you are more likely to hurt yourself by stretching a cold muscle. Instead, begin your run or workout with 15-20 arm or leg swings across the front of your body. You can also try doing 20 arm circles with hands outstretched by your sides at shoulder height, first clockwise, then counter clockwise. Starting your exercise with blood pumping through your muscles will reduce the likelihood of getting a pull or strain that sidelines you.
Getting your heart pumping prior to a workout will increase the blood flow, nutrients and oxygen delivered to your muscles, all while increasing their extensibility. What should this warm up look like? It could be as easy as a light jog or brisk walk. You could try walking with high knees or walking butt kicks. The idea is to slowly raise your heart rate and warm your muscles over a period of 10-15 minutes.
If you were running or getting your heart rate to an elevated level throughout your workout, it’s important to slowly reduce that heart rate before sitting or packing up to go home. Try getting on a treadmill or walking around a track at brisk pace to let your body slowly return to a more normalized heart rate. Remember, if your heart is pumping fast enough to maintain a high level of activity, aim to take 10-15 minutes to slowly cool down and let your body return to more of a resting state.
Following a period of heavy use, your muscles tend to get tight as they cool down. Aim to perform static stretches following the exercise to maintain flexibility and decrease soreness felt later that day or the next. Aim to hold a stretch for 30-45 seconds at a time. Push to the point of a deep, comfortable stretch – but not to the point of pain.
Remember, to seek help from qualified medical practitioner such as your physician and/or physical therapist if you ever have an injury or question. Every injury is different and prompt attention can reduce time missed on your training regimen.
If you feel unusual aches and pains during or after your workout, you can also schedule a free assessment at Athletico. Our experts will take a look at your condition and provide recommendations for next steps in the recovery process.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Buist I, Bredeweg S, Bessem B, Mechelen W, et al. Incidence and risk factors of running-related injuries during preparation for a 4-mile recreational running event. Br J Sports Med. 2010:44;598-604.
2. Brown E, Kimball R. Medical history associated with adolescent power lifting. Pediatrics. 1983:72(5);636-44.
3. Fradkin A, Gabbe B, Cameron P. Does warming up prevent injury in sport?: The evidence from randomized controlled trials. J Sci Med Sport. 2006:9(3);214-220.