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Warming up, cooling down for exercise

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THIS is one topic that has so many sources on the net and one needs some basic knowledge and experience to advice sportpersons on what works and for which sport.

Just like training warm up and cool downs are exercise and sports specific. Appropriate warm-up and cool-down periods are an important part of any exercise programme.

The body, just as any machine, needs to get ready for use. Before you race a car, you rev the engine so it is warmed up enough to be able to perform at its best. In the same manner, our body too, needs warming up before any major physical exertion, be it physical work around the house, office, athletic events or a heavy workout.

Warming up refers to a preparatory phase at the beginning of an exercise session. Warming up generally involves a period of low-impact exercise regimes which prepare the body for the more strenuous aspects of the sporting activity.

Warming up is an important aspect of exercise in reducing the risk of injury that would possibly happen if over stretching occurred, without the person being physically warmed up and prepared for the exercise.

Cooling down refers to a period at the end of an exercise session. The cooling down phase, again, tends to involve a period of low-impact exercise which gradually returns the body to its ‘resting state’.

The cooling down phase is believed to reduce the risk of muscular soreness which may occur the day after an exercise session, and reduce the risk of fainting or collapse after such a session.

An exercise session should always commence with a period of warm up. In some cases it may take the form of a series of specially designed preparatory exercise, whilst in other sessions it will simply involve performing the activity at a low density before increasing the intensity to the desired level. Games, such as traditional games, may come up handy as warm up activities.

The warming up period is important for the following reasons: It gets the body ready for the physical exertion that follows. This optimises the physical condition, enabling the body to cope more easily with the activity. It also enables the athlete to get the most benefit from the session.

When commencing a bout of exercise your body needs to make a number of adjustments. These include: increasing your breathing and heart rate, increasing the energy-releasing reactions in the muscles by accelerating the metabolic rate and promoting blood flow to the muscles to supply them with more oxygen and to remove waste products. Cold muscle, tendons and connective tissue do not stretch very easily.

Stretching without a warm-up is therefore unlikely to produce the best effects.

Warming up also relaxes the body and muscle which further allows them to be stretched effectively. It is also believed that cold muscles and tendons are more prone to damage since they are more likely to tear when cold.

A warm-up increases the heart rate gradually and aerobic exercise prepares the heart and cardiovascular system, together with the muscles, gradually, for exercise.

A warm-up also causes the blood to be diverted to the exercising muscles. This is achieved by getting the blood vessels that supply the muscles being used, to dilate. This extra blood is diverted from areas of the body not as important for exercising, such as the gut.

A warm-up increases the temperature of the body. This increase in temperature facilitates and speeds up many of the processes associated with exercise metabolism.

It increases the rate of nerve impulse transmission, the rate of oxygen delivery to the muscles and the speed of the reactions associated with the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Therefore, in this context, a warm up may be said to optimise the condition of the body.

Exercising, without warming up, may cause the muscles to work without an adequate oxygen supply. This forces them to use anaerobic processes to supplement their production of ATP.

As a consequence, lactic acid accumulates and the muscles may become prematurely fatigued. These adjustments do not occur straight away, but require a number of minutes to reach the necessary levels.

So the purpose of a warm-up is to encourage these adjustments to occur gradually, by commencing your exercise session at an easy level and increasing the intensity gradually. If you were to start exercising at a strenuous level without a warm-up, your body would be ill-prepared for the higher demands being made of it, which may cause injury and unnecessary fatigue.

If the warm-up session has specific movements relating to the sporting activity the muscles can be re-educated in preparation for the coming activities.

It reduces the risk of injury (cold muscles do not stretch very easily) and it reduces the risk of premature fatigue which can occur if the cardiovascular system is unprepared for strenuous activity. It prepares cardiac function for increased activity and reduces the risk of stress being placed on the heart.

A typical warm-up may involve some ‘loosening exercises’ followed by a few minutes of low-impact aerobic activity and then a series of stretching exercises. This may last for approximately five to fifteen minutes depending upon the intensity of the session which follows.

Loosening exercises at the start of the warm up may include activities such as ‘stretching’ and ‘running on the spot’. These are gentle activities which begin to prepare the body for exercise and are especially important if the athlete has been inactive for a while.

The aerobic exercise may involve activities such as cycling on an exercise cycle.

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

It is critical at this moment in time to point out that including static stretching at this stage will work against all these gains of warming up.

One does not want to stop and allow the body to cool down, slow down blood flow etc, just before starting the actually performance. For such reasons exercise physiologist discourage static stretching during warn, especially for explosive sports. Leave it for your cool down.
One of the best ways to warm up is to perform the upcoming exercise at a slow pace. This will allow you to simulate at low intensity the movements you are about to perform at higher intensity during your chosen activity.

Typical examples include steady jogging, cycling or swimming before progressing to a faster speed. This may then be followed by some sport-specific movements and activities, such as a few minutes of easy catching practice for cricketers or baseball players, going through the motion of bowling a ball for lawn bowlers, shoulder rolls, or side-stepping and slow-paced practice hits for tennis players.

Sport-specific warm-ups are often designed by a qualified trainer in that sport.

The practice of cooling down after exercise means slowing down your level of activity gradually. This helps your heart rate and breathing to return towards resting levels gradually, helps avoid fainting or dizziness, which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is stopped suddenly, helps to remove waste products from your muscles, such as lactic acid, which can build up during vigorous activity (lactic acid is most effectively removed by gentle exercise rather than stopping suddenly); and helps prepare your muscles for the next exercise session, whether it’s the next day or in a few days’ time.

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