Warm ups and cool downs – how to perform at your best in training and competition


Warm ups and cool downs – how to perform at your best in training and competition

Warm ups and cool downs – how to perform at your best in training and competition

Warming up before and cooling down after exercise are essential parts of training and if you want to perform at your best it’s worth spending some time exploring these subjects. In this article we’ll tell you why and show you how!

Warming up

The main part of your workout is where you stimulate fitness and strength gains but to get the most out of your exercise routine you need to get your body ready to train. Training without warming up properly will likely result in a less than ideal workout and may even end in injury. In addition to getting us physically and mentally ready for exercise, a well designed warm up also provides an opportunity to practice the movements we are going to perform in the coming session whilst hopefully minimising the risk of suffering injury while training or competing.

There are 3 components to warming up 1) a pulse raiser to increase your body temperature and get oxygenated blood pumping around your body, 2) joint mobilisation to make sure your joints are moving freely and are well lubricated with synovial fluid and 3) flexibility to ensure that muscles are warm and pliable thus making them contract better and be less prone to injury.

1)    The pulse raiser – cardiovascular exercise is used to raise the heart rate and is the part of the warm up that makes you warm! It’s important to make the pulse raiser graduated i.e. increase in intensity over time. By using exercises such as rowers, cross trainers or skipping, in addition to raising the pulse, it is possible to mobilise all the major joints of the body. You should finish your pulse raiser at an RPE of around 5/6 or, in other words, feeling ready to get on with some more strenuous exercise! 5 to 10 minutes spent on this component of warming up is plenty – we want to be warmed up and not worn out after all.

2)    Joint mobility – chances are that if you selected the rower, cross trainer or skipping, you’ll have mobilised your major joints already and won’t need to spend any further time getting your joints ready for exercise. If, however, you warmed up using a bike or treadmill, you may well need to mobilise the joints you didn’t use during that exercise. To mobilise a joint, simply take it through its natural range of movement in a controlled fashion, increasing the degree of motion as you feel the joint warming up e.g. shallow knee bends progressing to full squats over 10-15 reps to mobilise the hips and knees or small arm circles progressing to full arm circles to mobilise the shoulders. This will increase the production of synovial fluid within your joints which is our own natural oil that keeps your joints lubricated and healthy.

3)    Flexibility – it’s not uncommon to see people performing slow static stretches as part of their warm up but, as useful as this type of stretching is, it’s far better to utilise a method of stretching called dynamic stretching in the warm up and leave the static stretches for the cool down. Static stretches tend to cause reduced blood flow through muscles, muscular relaxation, the pulse to slow and reduced body temperature – none of which sound like things we want in a warm up! In comparison, dynamic stretches keep the heart rate and body temperature elevated, “wake up” our muscles, mirror the movements likely to be performed in the workout and also promote joint mobility. Dynamic stretches include movements such as lunges, squats, leg swings, arm swings, high knee and heel flick running.

Once you have completed your general warm up, you can move onto your specific preparations for your training session or sport e.g. if you are playing rugby you’ll probably include some ball skills, passing, kicking and tackling. If you are hitting the gym for some heavy strength training, you’ll probably complete some light & moderate sets to get your mind and body ready for the workout to come. These specific activities will really help you “zero in” on the coming training session or game.

Cooling down

After a hard game or workout cooling down can make a big difference to how fast you recover. By cooling down properly you will flush waste materials out of your muscles, reduce muscle stiffness (called DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and minimise adaptive shortening which is the reduction in flexibility that can be caused by certain exercises.

Cool downs have 2 components1) a pulse lowerer during which the heart rate is gradually reduced and 2) static stretches to maintain or develop flexibility.

1)  Pulse lowerer – this is essentially the reverse of the pulse raiser in that you’ll start out at a reasonably fast pace but slow down over a period of 5-10 minutes and finish with a minute or so of very slow paced activity. The exercise modality is not important and the aim is to reduce the heart rate gradually while pump freshly oxygenated blood around your body. At the end of your pulse lowerer you should feel fairly recovered from your workout or match and your breathing rate should be almost back to normal.

2)  Static stretching – as your muscles are nice and warm after your workout it makes sense to spend some time stretching them. By holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds you will maintain your current level of flexibility but by stretching each muscle for 30-40 seconds or more you will actually increase the elasticity of your muscles. Stretches are held statically which is very different to the movements prescribed in the warm up and are designed to either lengthen or offset any adaptive shortening that may occur as a result of your training.   Make sure you stretch all of the muscles you have used during your workout although you may choose to spend longer stretching some muscles than others e.g. stretching your tight hamstrings for 45 seconds each but only spending 15 seconds on your already flexible calves.

Spending time warming up and cooling down properly will ensure that you get the most from your workouts and play as well as you possibly can so don’t leave your performance to chance – spend some time designing and perfecting an effective warm up and cool down routine and you should see your performance improve significantly.