There are some necessary evils that some people neglect, not realizing the negative impacts that these actions can have. These things can include not turning off all the lights before leaving the house, not drinking enough water throughout the day and becoming dehydrated, not prioritizing sleep and instead staying up all night browsing Pinterest (this one I am guilty of), etc.
One thing that should never be neglected, however, is warming up and cooling down when exercising. I understand that it's not exactly thrilling to warm-up and cool-down movements before and after a workout. But although these movements seem trivial, they actually have a serious impact on your body. I honestly despise stretching, especially if my muscles are screaming after an intense workout. Do I want to stretch my hamstrings after a heavy deadlift workout? NO. But if I don't, the pain could be worse the next day.
I'll share what I personally do for a warm-up, cool-down, and stretching.
As you would imagine from the title, these "warm up" or prime your body to start working out. They are essential for preparing your body to do any strenuous exercise, especially weight training. You wouldn't start working out a cold muscle, would you? Think about it. Say, perhaps, you're about to back squat for 8-10 reps, which is relatively heavy. You clang on the plates on the Olympic bar, having not warmed up, and get to it. As you can imagine, it's not a fun experience: your muscles just went from being "cold" (or not actively used) to pushing up heavy weight without proper warm-up. That can be dangerous. You wouldn't throw an inexperienced bullfighter into the pen with a bull, would you? Okay, so that sounds a little extreme. ;) But you get my point!
In my gym class, I am an assistant teacher to kids with special needs. We play games like ping pong and washer toss that don't seem physically active, but nevertheless we always "warm up" before playing so that we can get that blood flowing. It may seem stupid, but it's our attempt to teach the kids that warming up before doing anything even slightly active is necessary.
Essentially, warm-ups do a few things: they get the blood flowing (allowing your muscles to take over and your heart doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood), they heat up the muscles to start to take a pounding, they allow you to be more flexible which helps with range of motion (making the muscle being worked get more benefit), they release important hormones such as ATP that help in promoting muscle growth, and they psychologically prepare your mind to get ready for your upcoming workout.
For me personally, I warm-up in a variety of ways. Before any cardio session, I do a few jumping jacks, high knees, and butt kicks just to get the blood flowing so I can go hard. Before every weights session, I do the same thing, and depending on if I am working my upper or lower body, I do targeted exercises to get the blood flowing in that particular muscle. For legs, I always do a set of 20 bodyweight squats and 20 alternating lunges. For upper body, I take a 5-lb. plate and do 10 forward and backward arm swings. And whether its upper or lower body, I always do a warm-up set before my first exercise. This means that for whatever exercise I am about to do first, I do a set with light weights before I start lifting heavy so I can let my body know what exercise it's about to do and warm up the muscles. For example, since I always start with a compound movement, if I am doing shoulders, I will do a set of 20 reps with a light weight of shoulder to press before I start doing 8-10 reps. This is the same for every muscle group.
Just as warming up the muscle is important, cooling down is just as necessary. Now I understand that it's not the first thing I want to do after a long, vigorous workout. I just want to go home and max out on my protein and carbs. However, cool-downs are vital to help build strength and muscle.
The importance of cool-downs comes from allowing waste products, like the dreaded lactic acid, to be removed from the body, preventing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) so that you can work a certain body part again sooner, and preventing blood from pooling the extremities.
After a workout, typically I will do some type of "finisher" circuit that includes exercises such as burpees, medicine ball slams, push-ups, etc. This not only helps boost my metabolism, but it also allows me to start to cool down. It seems odd, considering burpees are high intensity. But right after my "finisher" circuit, I immediately stretch, foam roll my sore muscles, hydrate with lots of water (because your body uses up a lot of water during exercise), and eat a source of fast-acting protein and carbohydrate to replenish energy stores and help my muscles promote an anabolic, or building, state and not a catabolic, or muscle-diminishing, state. Then I grab my stuff and I'm out of the gym.
Here's my confession: I used to never stretch. Ever. And it was bad! I would wake up the next day after a tough lifting workout and I would feel like I got ran over by a semi-truck. It's not pretty. I also get that stretching can be super boring, especially if you're like me and you have NO patience. I liteally do not want to hold a stretching position for 30 seconds straight because I cannot sit still and I get super fidgety. But I force myself to because it is SO necessary.
By stretching, you are preventing the chance of being in pain from DOMS and letting the blood flow to the muscles to help recovery. Before a WARM-UP you should do DYNAMIC STRETCHES such as jumping jacks and high knees. This gets the blood flowing, as I have mentioned. If you hold static stretches during a warm-up, you may actually increase your chances of getting injured during your workout. You want to get the body warmed up, not stretch it out quite yet. For COOL-DOWNS you should do STATIC STRETCHES which means holding a certain stretch for some period of time, typically 15-30 seconds. This includes toe touches, splits, etc. You don't need to do dynamic stretches because you don't need to warm the body up.
Example of a static stretch. (Source)
So in total, what have we learned?
ALWAYS WARM UP, COOL DOWN, AND STRETCH!!!
Questions: Do you warm up/cool down/stretch? If not, what's your excuse?!
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