One of the most important factors in injury prevention is the warm-up and cool-down, and it should not be neglected.

The warm-up refers to a preparatory phase at the beginning of an exercise session. The warm-up generally involves a period of low-impact exercise regimens that prepare the body for the more strenuous aspects of sports activity. Warming up is an important aspect of exercise to reduce the risk of injury that could possibly occur if overstretching occurs without the person physically warming up and preparing for exercise.

Cool down refers to a short period at the end of an exercise session. The cool-down phase, again, tends to involve a brief period of low-impact exercise that gradually returns the body to its “resting state.” The cool down phase is thought to reduce the risk of muscle soreness that can occur the day after an exercise session and to reduce the risk of fainting or collapsing after such a session.

The warm up session

An exercise session should always begin with a warm-up period. In some cases it may take the form of a series of specially designed preparatory exercises, while in other sessions it will simply involve performing the activity at a low density before increasing the intensity to the desired level. The warm-up period is important for the following reasons:

  • It prepares the body for the physical exertion that follows. This optimizes fitness, allowing the body to more easily cope with activity. It also allows the athlete to get the most benefit from the session.
  • If the warm-up session has specific movements related to the sports activity, the muscles can be re-educated in preparation for the upcoming activities.
  • It reduces the risk of injury (cold muscles don’t stretch very easily) and reduces the risk of premature fatigue that can occur if the cardiovascular system isn’t prepared for strenuous activity.
  • It prepares the heart function for increased activity and reduces the risk of putting pressure on the heart.

A typical warm-up might include a few “cool-down exercises” followed by a few minutes of low-impact aerobic activity and then a series of stretching exercises. This can last approximately five to fifteen minutes depending on the intensity of the session that follows. Relaxation exercises at the beginning of the warm-up can include activities such as ‘stretching’ and ‘running in place’. These are gentle activities that begin to prepare the body for exercise and are especially important if the athlete has been inactive for a while.

Aerobic exercise can involve activities such as cycling on an exercise bike. This has the effect of increasing the heart rate, diverting blood to the exercising muscles, and raising the overall temperature of the muscles.

Stretching exercises provide the final warm-up phase and ensure that the muscles and tendons are prepared for exercise. An important reason for stretching exercises is to prevent muscles and tendons from being overstretched during the session. Such a warm-up will also prepare the joints for physical activity.

The effects of heating on the body are:

  • Cold muscles, tendons, and connective tissue don’t stretch very easily. Therefore, stretching without a warm-up is unlikely to produce the best effects. Warming up also relaxes your body and muscles, allowing them to stretch more effectively. It is also believed that cold muscles and tendons are more prone to damage, as they are more likely to tear when cold.
  • A warm-up gradually increases your heart rate, and aerobic exercise gradually prepares your heart and cardiovascular system, along with your muscles, for exercise.
  • A warm-up also causes blood to be diverted to the exercising muscles. This is achieved by dilating the blood vessels supplying the muscles being used. This extra blood is diverted from areas of the body that aren’t as important for exercise, like the gut.
  • Exercising without warming up can cause muscles to work without an adequate supply of oxygen. This forces them to use anaerobic processes to supplement their production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As a consequence, lactic acid builds up and muscles can fatigue prematurely.

A warm-up increases the body temperature. This rise in temperature facilitates and speeds up many of the processes associated with exercise metabolism. It increases the rate of transmission of nerve impulses, the rate of oxygen supply to the muscles, and the speed of reactions associated with the production of ATP. Therefore, in this context, it can be said that a warm-up optimizes the body’s condition.

Cooling

A cool down involves a brief period at the end of an exercise session during which the body’s physical activity is gradually reduced to almost its resting level. Therefore, a cool down often involves a period of gradually tapering off low-impact aerobic exercise, followed by some gentle stretching. This has a number of effects.

Mild aerobic activity helps get rid of any metabolic waste products that may have built up during your exercise session. The benefits of active recovery are believed to be related to the muscles continuing to receive a more extensive supply of oxygenated blood, which will also help with the removal of metabolic waste products.

During exercise, blood is pumped throughout the body by the action of the heart. However, the blood is assisted in its return to the heart through the venous system and muscle contraction. If an athlete suddenly stops exercising, the heart continues to beat fast, sending blood throughout the body, but, because the exercise has ceased, the blood is no longer assisted back to the heart. It is suggested that this is one of the reasons why people sometimes feel weak after exercise. During a cool down, the heart rate is gradually reduced to its resting level and venous return continues to be assisted by actively contracting muscles, thus avoiding this problem.

After exercise and after the cool down period, the athlete’s heart will still need a period of time to return to its full resting rate, but it should be within 30 beats of what it was before the exercise session began. This, of course, will be influenced by the general physical condition of the individual. It can also be influenced by session content, with more demanding sessions requiring a longer cool down. The cool down period also provides an opportunity to include additional stretching exercises, which may be desirable, especially if they were not included as part of the main session. Including stretching exercises within the cool-down period not only helps to gradually reduce the body’s activity level at the end of the session, but can also prevent stiffness the next day.

The cool-down period is also likely to occur when the body is warm, making the muscles more receptive to stretching. Therefore, the most effective stretching can be done at this time.

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