During the years I have been a fitness instructor and personal trainer, I've noticed the tendency in many exercisers to skip two very important parts of a workout. Some students race into a fitness class 5 to 10 minutes late and begin with the "serious exercise," and/or they grab their gear right after the aerobic section and race out, their hearts still pounding. The solitary exerciser often minimizes the time spent on the warm-up and cool-down when not under the watchful eye of his or her personal trainer.
"Serious exercise" starts with a warm-up and ends with a cool-down. The first step in helping students and clients to include warm-ups and cool-downs in their workouts is educating them about the benefits:
- Warming up raises the temperature of the body. For each degree of temperature elevation, the metabolic rate of the cells increases by about 13 percent.
- The blood supply to the muscles increases, permitting a greater release of oxygen to feed them.
- The speed and force of muscle contractions improve, along with a faster nerve impulse transmission.
- Warming up helps prevent injuries. Muscle elasticity and the flexibility of the tendons and ligaments are increased. Synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints, is released during easy activity.
- Heart function is improved and ready for the increased demand of intense exercise.
Warm-up activities are movement activities. Stretching is not a warm-up exercise because it does not raise the body temperature. In fact, an exerciser can tear cold muscles by stretching them.
To warm-up, use large movements at an easy pace to heat the entire body. Gradually increase the intensity. Some examples of warm-up are slow jogging or walking, easy biking, slow jump roping, and slow aerobic dance patterns. If you are warming up for a sport, do the movements for the sport but at a slow pace. This will produce a rehearsal effect and your muscles will remember the movement and respond faster during the sports play.
The warm-up should produce light perspiration. When this occurs, you can do some light pre-exercise stretching. However, deep stretching should be performed after the workout is over.
After heavy exercise it is time to taper off with a good cool-down, which is just as important as the warm-up.
- Respiration, body temperature, and heart rate are gradually returned to normal, preventing an irregular heart beat that may be life threatening.
- The cool-down assists the return of blood to your heart. Suddenly stopping aerobic activity causes blood to pool in the legs instead of circulating to the brain. This can cause dizziness or light-headedness.
- Skeletal muscles are shielded from injured by gentle stretching.
- Cool-downs relax you emotionally and physically.
- Your flexibility is increased.
There are two parts to a complete cool-down. The first follows the cardiovascular exercise and allows the heart to return to 120 beats per minute or less. Activities for this resemble warm-up activities - large movements at a slow pace.
The second part of cooling down is the stretching. This increases flexibility and range of motion, and allows you to relax. Static stretching is recommended. Stretch the muscle until it feels tight, not painful, and hold it for about 30 seconds. Never bounce the stretch.
After stretching, many exercisers use progressive relaxation and deep breathing to enhance the feeling of well-being. This activity helps return the body to normal function.
Besides education, how can fitness instructors increase the number of students who include the warm-up and cool-down in their fitness routines?
- Use a heart rate monitor or monitor the pulse manually every 60 seconds to demonstrate to the student how the heart rate gradually increases during the warm-up.
- Make the warm-up fun and interesting.
- Regularly assess your students' and clients' flexibility to demonstrate the improvements in stretching ability.