Warm-Up to Stretching

Written by Leila Dale

(3 min read)

Sometimes it feels like I’m always rushing. Even my physical activity routine is rushed! My workout is often squeezed between the kids’ dinner and their bedtime, which often means skipping the warm-up, cool-down and stretching at the end. But, after feeling like I was going to pass out after my run last week, I have vowed to make time for the warm-up and cool-down!

The importance of warming up is often understated. Not doing so before your exercise routine can make you feel dizzy or make it harder to get into your regular physical activity. It turns out that a warm-up, cool-down and performing some stretches can really influence your health, performance, and how sore you feel afterwards too.

The Warm-Up:

Warming up before doing moderate-to-vigorous exercise (that’s when the activity feels somewhat hard) can really benefit your performance and lower your risk of injury. Warming up your body for exercise is a bit like warming up your car in the winter – starting your car and immediately driving up a hill when it’s -10°C is tough on your engine. Moving your body at a slow pace before your “real” exercise dilates your blood vessels, allowing more blood and oxygen to flow to your muscles and joints, and quite literally warms them up for greater efficiency. The slow pace also allows your heart rate to gradually increase, which puts less strain on your heart. 

HOW TO: What makes for a good warm-up? It’s simple – start by moving the muscles you’re going to use, but at a slower pace. If you plan to go for a walk or jog, simply start with a brisk walk or jog at a slow pace for the first 5-10 minutes first. If you plan to do an upper body workout at the gym, start with moving your entire body, such as a 5-minute session on the treadmill, to slowly raise your heart rate, followed by some modified push-ups on your knees to warm up your upper body muscles. Dynamic stretches like jumping jacks are also a good warm-up exercise to increase blood flow to your muscles and get your body temperature up!

The Cool Down:

After your exercise, a cool down is important to return your heart and breathing rate to normal resting levels. If you stop exercising suddenly, your heart rate and blood pressure can drop quickly, which can make you feel lightheaded, sick, and for some people even cause fainting. Slowing the exercise down in the last 5-10 minutes will gradually lower your heart and breathing rates, preventing this lightheaded feeling. A good cool down is as simple as walking slowly for 5 minutes, followed by static stretching.

The cool-down period is the best time to do some low-intensity stretching exercises, as your muscles are warm. Stretching can improve your flexibility by increasing your range of motion. If your muscles become too tight, this stress on your joints and tendons can lead to injury and make everyday activities like bending down to tie your shoes, more difficult. 

HOW TO: Flexibility exercises (like stretching, yoga, or tai chi) can also help improve mobility and prevent falls. Stretching doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming – just follow these simple tips:

  1. Stretch AFTER aerobic exercise, so make stretching part of your cool down. Muscles respond best to stretching when they’re warm and have blood flow.
  2. Begin by stretching your large muscle groups – legs, arms, shoulders and back. For a demonstration of some basic stretches, click here.
  3. Don’t overstretch or stretch to the point of pain in the muscles. You should feel a gentle pull or mild discomfort, but not pain!
  4. Hold each position for a minimum of 10 to 20 seconds. Don’t bounce as you stretch and remember to breathe in a normal and relaxed fashion.

The best thing about stretching is that flexibility improves quickly. So even if you can’t touch your toes when standing, by doing a few gentle stretches after each exercise session, you may find yourself getting closer!

Join the conversation! What are some of your go-to ways to warm up before your workout and what are your favourite stretches to do afterwards?

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