Nick Lape ACSM, FMS
As far back as just about anyone can remember, especially in places like your elementary school P.E. class, we have been taught to warm up before activities were done. It wasn’t long after that we started learning about something called a cool down. It is no different now than it was 15, 20, or even 30 years ago. They are absolutely essential parts of making sure that your body is ready for what you are about to put it through and then ready to recover afterwards.
We all remember having that one teacher who made sure you stretched before the class started. A classic example would be the hurdle, or runner’s stretch. And while stretching does have its place, we have come a long way from static stretching. Nowadays we know that using dynamic movement is probably the biggest key to unlocking the body before strength training, and even cardiovascular training. If I had a dollar for every person that I’ve seen not warm up and say, “Eh, I’ll be fine,” and then ‘tweaked’ something in that workout, I would have, well, a lot more money than I do now.
One part that some people don’t understand isn’t so much the fact that you are moving your body through ranges of motion, but the fact that you are connecting your brain neurologically to the different joints, bones, and tissues involved in each movement. If your brain is asleep, especially you morning gym goers, it is imperative to make sure that you wake it up with dynamic movement patterns before you start adding large amounts of weight.
There is always one question that goes along with the whole ‘brain’ explanation. Why? The best explanation that I have is to think about when you first roll out of bed. Is the first thing you think of doing a deadlift or stretching REAL big to get your body going? I highly doubt it. If you didn’t stretch, you wouldn’t break up connective tissues that get stiff while you sleep. Same thing goes for a workout. If the first thing you think of when you get to the gym is doing heavy deadlifts and nothing else you set yourself up for failure.
The second part of this is the cool down. The same way you get your body warmed up is almost the same way you want to cool down. Taking your body through some very low intensity dynamic movements and breathing patterns is perfect for getting your heart rate down. Adding some soft tissue work to the mix can help with relaxing any muscles that feel a little tense. Possibly the most important part of the cool down is the breathing though. Again, it goes back to the brain and making sure that you are taking your body out of that heightened state in order to start the recovery period.
Not doing either of these things and rushing into and out of a workout can actually end up being a recipe for disaster. Some people think that saying you could get hurt is just a way to scare them into warming up and cooling down. These are the same people that see it as a waste of time. I’ll also bet that most of these people don’t see the results they wish they could have. Why? (There’s that question again.) When the body is in a heightened state and hasn’t been properly warmed up or cooled down, you are in this constant state of flight or flight, which leads to prolonged recovery periods, plateaus and other not so fun gym terms. Do yourself a favor, warm up before and cool down after. Your brain and body will thank you, and you may just see more and better results than you did when you weren’t doing those things.