Whatever the level of intensity of your exercise; it is important to warm up and cool down. Both stages of these are imperative in injury prevention.
A lot of people know the importance of this, however few go through this process, and even fewer know the difference between warming up and cooling down.
The warm up!
Warming up increases the blood flow through a process called vasodilation (expansion of the blood vessels)
This helps to increase oxygen supply to the muscles and therefore helps to prevent the build up of lactic acid
It also allows the muscles to be more easily stretched
This improves dynamic flexibility (flexibility during movement)
Decreases the risk of tearing muscle at the end range of movement
Improves your muscular efficiency which helps to reduce fatigue
Prepares the cardiovascular system and respiratory system for more intense exercise
It is important to warm up broad areas of the body rather than too specific initiall
This can be done through gentle walking or cycling
The warm up should also be dynamic (Stretching with movement)
This prepares the body for activity
Sport specific drills – i.e gradually increasing the intensity or ferocity of tennis shots if playing tennis
Straight knee walk
The cool down!
The cool down is important to aid in a gradual return to normal heart rate
This also allows the body temperature to return to normal more gradually
Cooling down also allows more effective disposal of waste products from exercise such as lactic acid
This helps decrease the risk of cramping and stiffness for the following 48 hours
Helps reduce the pooling of blood in the larger muscles that had been used during exercise
This helps to reduce the risk of dizziness or fainting after exercise
Helps return muscles to a less contracted state and avoid chronic over shortening
This helps reduce the risk of muscle tears during injury
It is important to gradually decrease your exercise intensity with gentle cardiovascular exercise
This can be achieved through gentle jogging, cycling etc after exercise
It is important to use a longer duration stretch of the muscles whilst cooling down
This should be done quite broadly and not just the major muscles used during the exercise
How long should you hold a stretch?
The research is varied, and there appears to be very little general consensus – however most research does summarise with the importance of stretching after exercise for the reasons mentioned above
Most recommend stretching for somewhere between 15-45 seconds per muscle group; 30 seconds is a good average
Calf and Hamstring stretch
Straighten the leg that you are trying to stretch in front of you whilst leaning forward.
You feel the stretch in the back of your leg.
Hold this stretch for a minimum of 15 seconds but preferably 30. If you start to get pins and needles reduce the stretch.
If you pull/curl your toes upwards, the stretch will localise more in the calf.
Gluteal and stretch
(if this hurts your back, reduce the stretch or stop).
Laying on your back, bring one knee slightly up and then pull the knee towards your body. You should feel a stretch within your buttock region. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds before taking it to the next point of stretch. \
Seated Low Spine Stretch
Sitting on your chair, bend forward to a point where you feel stable, but also feel a stretch within the lower section of your spine.
Ensure this stretch is not painful and hold it for 20-30 seconds. Take a deep breath in and push slightly further – again ensuring that it is not pain.
Repeat this process three times.
Quadricep and hip flexor stretch
Bend your tight or painful side so that your leg is up against the back of a sofa or chair, with the side that you are no trying to stretch in front of the chair. Lean your body forward to create the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20-45 seconds, focusing on your painful side.
It would be worthwhile performing these exercises both sides, but focusing mostly on the painful side.
Go onto all fours assuming a position with a flat spine.
From this position curl your upper back, sucking your belly towards your spine.
Return to neutral before arching your back keeping your belly sucked in.
Repeat this 10 times ensuring good control of your back during the exercise.
Find a door frame or wardrobe.
One arm at a time, place your flat palm on the surface.
Rotate your body to 45 degrees away from the wall, keeping your arm straight. This should create a stretch in the chest.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Take a deep breath in and rotate your body slightly further away as you breathe back out.