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The Zen of Warm-Ups and Cool Downs
Do you find these parts of your program boring? Then you're not doing them right!

Are you one of those people who likes to skip the preliminaries and head straight for the good stuff? Then you probably hate warming up for your fitness routine. You're probably not thrilled with cooling down, either - you want to just drop whatever you were doing and get on with your day. You're not alone - in this world of fast food, impulse buys and instant gratification, nobody wants to ease in and out of anything anymore. We're doing ourselves a disservice with this attitude, however - to get the most out of life, it is necessary to both understand and enjoy the process over and above the actual goal. Goals, like everything else, are temporary - there's really no such thing as happily ever after. Once you get what you wanted, you lose interest and go onto the next thing. This hit-and-run way of life can be very harmful to your health, especially when you apply it to your favorite form of exercise, whether it's running, yoga, or even a weekend game of hoops. Skip warm ups and cool downs and you open yourself to injury. You may be able to get away with it for a while when you're young, but you'll be sorry later on when your body isn't as fine-tuned as it once was. This article isn't going to teach you how to warm up or cool down - that depends on your age and the type of fitness activity you do - but it will show you how to enjoy it.

(Article continued below.)

First off, you should understand why you need warm ups and cool downs. If you're older you probably already know one important reason for warm ups - to loosen up those stiff muscles! Before you enter into any physical activity, you have to get your circulation moving, and you do that by gradually getting your body active. As your body warms up, your joints become more mobile and your muscles get ready for your work out. Many injures are directly attributable to muscle stiffness - a good warm-up helps you avoid that. When your body is warm, your oxygen intake improves (as important in aerobic activity as it is in Yoga!), and your performance also improves. You respond better and faster. You get more out of your exercise.

A warm-up can be anything appropriate to the activity - walking for runners, slow walking for walkers, light, easy moves for Yoga or Pilates enthusiasts. A warm bath also helps, actually. Do you need to stretch? Not necessarily. The latest research suggests that stretching as part of the warm up does not help prevent injury. If you do stretch, it's important to remember not to overdo it - if you stress the muscles too much before you really get going, they'll rebel by getting stiffer, not looser. Your joints may become unstable, and that can open you up to injury. How long should you warm up? It depends on how long you'll be exercising - the longer the session, the longer the warm up should be. And there's the age factor, too - the older you are, the more time you should spend on warming up. Also spend more time on warming up if you're new to an exercise program.

The cool down, sometimes called the warm down, does the opposite of your warm up - it gradually lowers your elevated body temperature back to normal. It's also a necessary part of your routine. Want to feel really sore the day after a hard work out? Then skip the cool down. There's also a good chance you'll feel dizzy or nauseous if you suddenly stop after exercising hard. Not pleasant. So after you're done with your activity, spend some time gradually easing off on the intensity - how long depends on how long and how intensely you've been active. Take as much time as you need and a little extra. You need to keep the blood circulating, so that it doesn't pool in your extremities (that may be what has happened if you feel faint after a workout). Once you've gotten your heart rate down and are breathing easily once again, it's time to stretch, so you can continue cooling off, retain flexibility, and so that you can expel waste products such as lactic acid from your muscles. Make sure you hit all the muscles you worked out. The most beneficial time for static stretching is post-workout because your muscles are very warm and your flexibility will be at its height. Stretching will also help prevent DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), or at least lessen it (if you're still sore the next day after you've exercised, cooled down and stretched, just imagine how you might have felt had you skipped the cool down and stretch!).

So now you know why you need to warm up and cool down. Now comes the good part: learning to love it!

Next page >> Life's (Warm) Ups and (Cool) Downs >> Page 1, 2

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