Updated: May 29, 2020
The following information is general and may not be suitable to your individual health status. Always check with your Doctor before starting an exercise programme and always follow your registered fitness / exercise professional's advice.
The warm up and cool down will be a component of all your workouts whether you're training session is for cardio respiratory, resistance, or a combination of both. Even if you're going to have a nice relaxing stretching session you should warm up first, preferably for a longer period of time of 15 - 20 minutes. My next post will be specifically on flexibility/stretching.
So, let's have a look at why and what they achieve.
The purpose of your warm up is to prepare your body for the exercise to come and should last for 10 - 20 minutes depending on your current fitness level and any medical conditions you may have.
By gradually raising the heart rate, and body temperature, oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the working muscles, the risk of soft tissue injury is reduced, your muscles and the cardio respiratory part of your workout become more efficient. Your joints are lubricated by synovial fluid. Synovial fluid acts in protecting and lubricating your joints in much the same way as your engine oil lubricates and protects your car engine. Just as when your car engine is cold the oil is thick and offers very little protection, synovial fluid offers very little protection to your joints. As you gradually go through your warm up synovial fluid becomes viscose, lubricating your joints, exactly as the oil does in your car. You wouldn't race a cold car engine, don't race a cold body.
Start with small movements at a low intensity and mobilisation of the small joints, gradually increasing range of movement up to a moderate intensity and mobilisation of the larger joints. After about 5 minutes you should be aiming for large rhythmic movements from the large muscle groups. Only take the intensity up to moderate, remember this is preparing your body for your chosen exercise and you don't want to pre fatigue yourself. As well as general movements your warm up should mimic the body movements you're going to do in your main session as well as including dynamic or static stretches.
There you go, you should be all prepped up to safely and effectively carry out the main element of your exercise session.
The cool down can be thought of as a reversal of the warm up and safely returns your body to a pre exercise state and should last for at least 10 minutes. By performing mild continuous large muscle group activity, slowly decreasing in intensity, blood flow is returned to the heart, not left to pool in the veins which could cause fainting, dizziness and cardiac abnormalities. Waste products that have accumulated in the muscles during exercise which could cause aching and soreness are removed. The cool down is a good time to reflect on your exercise session, identifying what was good and bad about it and any improvements or adjustments you could make for your next session. Stretches are performed, while muscles and tissues are warm, soft and pliable at the end of the cool down.
There we go, a brief explanation of warm up and cool down and why you should never omit either from your exercise session.
If you're following any exercise classes in the media and they don't include warm up and cool down my advice would be: don't do it. If you do you run a greater risk of injury and a cardiac event.