Why warm up?
A pre-exercise warm-up:
warms your muscles by increasing the movement of blood through your tissues, making the muscles more supple;
increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles by increasing the blood flow to them;
prepares your muscles for stretching;
prepares your heart for an increase in activity;
prepares you mentally for the upcoming exercise; and
primes your nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise.
The warm-up is widely viewed as a simple measure to help prevent injury during exercise. While scientific studies are ongoing to
define the best warm-up techniques to gain this injury-prevention advantage, the warm-up in general is firmly established as a
key to exercising safely and effectively.
Ensuring an effective warm up
To make your warm up effective, you need to do movements that increase your heart rate and breathing, and slightly increase
the temperature of your muscle tissue. A good indication is warming up to the point where you have raised a light sweat.
If you’re exercising for general fitness, allow 5 to 10 minutes for your pre-exercise warm-up (or slightly longer in cold weather).
If you are exercising at a higher level than for general fitness, or have a particular sporting goal in mind, you may need a longer
warm-up, and one that is designed specifically for your sport.
Follow these options in the order listed.
1. General warm-up. To begin your warm-up do 5 minutes of light (low intensity) physical activity such as walking, jogging on
the spot or on a trampoline. Pump your arms or make large but controlled circular movements with your arms to help warm the
muscles of your upper body.
2. Sport-specific warm-up. 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.
Examples include 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, side-stepping and slow-paced practice hits for tennis players, or jogging for runners.
Sport-specific warm-ups are often designed by a qualified trainer in that sport.
3. Stretching. Any stretching is best performed after your muscles are warm, so only stretch after your general warm-up.
Stretching muscles when they are cold may lead to a tear. Static stretching (stretching a muscle and holding it in this position
without discomfort for 10-30 seconds) is considered the safest method of stretching.
Perform a light static stretching routine at the end of your warm up by stretching each of the muscle groups you will be using in
your chosen activity. A static stretch should be held at the point where you can feel the stretch but do not experience any
discomfort. If you feel discomfort, ease back on the stretch. Remember not to bounce when holding the stretch. Don’t spend so
long doing your stretches that your muscles cool down and your heart rate returns to normal. It is better to keep most of your
static stretching for after your exercise session, that is, after your cool-down.
Recent studies comparing a warm-up that includes static stretching with a warm-up that does not include static stretching have
shown that, although pre-exercise static stretching does improve flexibility, it does not appear to prevent injury during exercise.
Apart from static stretching, other methods of stretching include ballistic, dynamic and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular
facilitation) stretching, each of which is best done under instruction from a qualified fitness instructor or sports coach.
Why cool down?
The practice of cooling down after exercise means slowing down your level of activity gradually. Cooling down:
helps your heart rate and breathing to return towards normal gradually;
helps avoid fainting or dizziness, which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is
helps prepare your muscles for the next exercise session, whether it’s the next day or in a few days’ time; and
helps to remove waste products from your muscles, such as lactic acid, which can build up during vigorous activity.
You may see conflicting advice as to whether cooling down prevents post-exercise muscle soreness, also known as delayed-
onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, even if cooling down doesn’t prevent DOMS, the other benefits of cooling down
mean that you should always make it a part of your exercise session.
Ensuring an effective cool-down
For an effective cool-down:
perform low intensity exercise for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes; and
follow this with a stretching routine.
1. Continuing your chosen exercise while gradually slowing its intensity. Gradually slowing down the pace and exertion of your
activity over several minutes can seem a natural progression, as well as fulfilling the need to include a cool-down period at the
end of your exercise.
2. Slow jogging or brisk walking. Another option is to jog or walk briskly for a few minutes after your exercise, making sure
that this activity is lower in intensity than the exercise you have just performed.
Stretching after your cool-down
The best time to stretch is after your cool-down, as at this time your muscles are still warm and most likely to respond
favourably and there is a low risk of injury. Stretching helps to relax your muscles and restore them to their resting length, and
improve flexibility (the range of movement about your joints).
As a guide, allow 10 minutes of post-exercise stretching for every one hour of exercise. Make these post-exercise stretches
more thorough than your pre-exercise stretches. Ensure that you stretch all the major muscle groups that you have used during
your exercise. Stretch each muscle group for 20 to 30 seconds, 2 to 3 times.