Easing into and out of your aerobic workout may be as important as the exercise itself. Here’s how to warm up and cool down safely.
You’re ready to get fit. You can’t wait to feel better and have more energy to do all the things you enjoy. But jumping into an aerobic workout without preparing your body could lead to setbacks, such as muscle strain or injury. To help your body adapt to the demands of aerobic activity, take time to warm up before you exercise and cool down afterward.
How to warm up
Warming up prepares your body for aerobic activity. It gradually revs up your cardiovascular system, increases blood flow to your muscles and raises your body temperature.
Choose a warm-up activity that uses the same muscles you’ll use during your workout. For example, if you’re going to take a brisk 30-minute walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up.
If you have a tight or previously injured muscle, stretch the affected muscle after you warm up. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. And remember to keep it gentle. Don’t bounce. Sudden or aggressive movements may cause injury.
How to cool down
Immediately after your workout, take time to cool down. This gradually reduces the temperature of your muscles and may help reduce muscle injury, stiffness and soreness.
Cooling down is similar to warming up. After your workout, walk or continue your activity at a low intensity for five to 10 minutes. For example, after a 30-minute session of brisk walking, cool down by slowing your walking pace for five to 10 minutes.
Remember to stretch
After you cool down, your muscles will be warm and receptive to stretching. Regular stretching increases your flexibility, improves circulation and helps maximize the range of motion of your joints.
Focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders — or other muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds, and then repeat the stretch on the other side. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching. If it hurts, back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain. Relax and breathe freely throughout each stretch.
Be kind to your body
Finding time for regular aerobic workouts can be challenging. If you’re tempted to skip warming up and cooling down, get creative. If you walk to a fitness facility, use the trip there and back to warm up and cool down. Remember, the time you spend preparing for exercise and cooling down afterward may be as important as the exercise itself. Give your body the time it needs to adjust to the demands of your workout.