What are the benefits?

Warming up prepares your body for exercise by increasing blood flow to your muscles, increasing body temperature and raising your heart rate. If you think about all of the nutrients and minerals that need to be delivered to your muscles to fuel your activity, warming up gets this process underway so your body can respond to the challenge of the upcoming workout.

Cooling down allows your heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to its pre-exercise levels, immediately stopping from moderate or vigorous can leave you feeling dizzy and light-headed, and may hinder recovery time.

Stretching, when?

There is no evidence to suggest that static stretching does anything positive prior to exercise, in fact, some research has found that static stretching before an activity can hinder your performance. Also, performing static stretching when your muscles are cold and stiff could potentially lead to injury.

However, performing dynamic stretches in your warm-up will help you loosen up and prepare your muscles for the upcoming workout. After your workout is a good opportunity to perform static stretches as they will be warm, this has been shown to improve flexibility.

To summarise:

  • Dynamic stretches before exercise, during the warm-up
  • Static stretches after exercise, during the cool down

OK, that’s great, but how do I warm-up and cool down effectively?

A warm-up is generally the activity that you are going to complete, but at a much lighter intensity, with dynamic stretches/movements included. See some examples below:

Running: a gentle jog for 10-15 minutes with dynamic stretches

Swimming: Dynamic stretches followed by 10-15 minutes gentle freestyle or breaststroke

Cycling: dynamic stretches followed by 10-15 minutes gentle ride in a higher gear

If you are performing more intense workouts such as HIIT at home, you will need to perform a warm-up that specifically targets the muscle groups you will be using as well as getting your heart-rate up a bit! Below are examples of a full-body warm up and cool down that you can perform before and after most types of exercise.

Full-body warm up

High knees X15: either at a slow pace or slightly quicker to get the heart rate going.

Walk downs X10: stand tall with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, bend your body forward and place your hands on the floor in line with your feet (if your flexibility is not great, bend your knees) and walk your hands forward three paces, and back and return to stand.

Wide squats and reach x10: stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, with your toes at 45 degrees. Hold your hands together and bend down to touch your knees with your elbows, and rise back to a stand and reach your hands up.

Toe-reach twists x10: stand with your feet nice and wide, and your arms outstretched parallel with the floor. Keeping your arms and legs straight, reach for your right foot with your left hand, return to stand, then reach for your left foot with your right hand.

Side lunges x10: stand up tall with your feet shoulder width apart, step out to one side and bend down slightly, then rise back to a stand, repeat on opposite leg.

Shoulder circles x5 (each direction): standing tall, hold your arms out to your side, rotate your shoulders in large circles, complete in both directions.

Cool down (static stretches)

If you are unsure whether you have cooled down sufficiently from an activity, spend 10 minutes walking a leisurely pace before completing these stretches. Hold each pose for 20-30 seconds, a stretch should be uncomfortable, without being too painful, so once you reach that point, hold!

Hamstring stretch: standing with your feet about hip-width apart, keeping your knees straight, bend down and bring your hands towards your toes.

Groin stretch: standing with your feet wide apart, bend down to one side in a side lunge position, keeping your torso in an upright position.

Quad stretch: balancing either using a chair or table, pick up your right foot by the ankle, and pull back so your heel touches your bottom.

Calf stretch: place on foot forward, keeping the leg straight, raise your toes off the ground as much as possible, bend the back leg, and bend down. Repeat on opposing leg.

Bicep/forearm stretch: hold one arm out straight in front of you with your palm facing up, use your other hand to extend the wrist so your palm faces forward.

Tricep stretch: reach behind your shoulders and place your palm between your shoulder blades beneath your neck, place your other hand on the opposing elbow and pull slightly to increase the stretch.

Neck stretch: standing upright, bring your head down to side so that your ear moves towards your shoulder, repeat on the other side. Ensure your shoulders and hips do not move.

Shoulder stretch: grip your hands together behind your back, keep your arms straight and lift your arms up as high as you can.

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