After 50 minutes of sweating through a high-intensity cardio class, you
may be tempted to skip out early before the cool down. But that cool down
portion at the end of a workout—and its fellow on the front end,
the warm up—are important to staying fit and preventing injury.
“Both are crucial parts of exercising,” says
Brenda Manfredi, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Annadel Medical Group in Windsor. “Warm ups get the heart and muscles ready for action
and open up the tendons and joints, while cool downs keep blood flowing
and prevent stiff muscles. Not doing those things can lead to a greater
chance of injuring your body.”
Here are some tips from Dr. Manfredi:
Usually a slow tempo of the exercise you’ll do during the workout
helps prep the body—if you’ll be running, for instance, start
off with a walk or easy jogging pace. After about five to 10 minutes,
when the muscles are warmed up, start adding standing stretches, which
will keep your heart rate up in preparation for your workout.
Dr. Manfredi suggests matching your stretches to the muscles you’ll
be using during your workout. For instance, if you are going to take a
cycling class, incorporate hamstring stretches and lunges; if you’ll
be lifting free weights, make sure to stretch the shoulders, arms and
“These movements increase oxygen flow to the muscles, which gives
you stamina, while also raising muscle temperature, which can give you
greater calorie burn and a much better chance of avoiding injury,”
Dr. Manfredi says. “With your muscles sufficiently warmed up, you’ll
have better muscle performance and control while you exercise.”
The goal here is to lower the heart rate and stretch the muscles used during
the workout, which also increases flexibility. If you’ve been running
or cycling, slow down to an easy pace so you don’t come to a sudden
stop—that can lead to muscle cramps or a sharp drop in blood pressure.
Again, the muscles used during the workout should get some nice static
stretching at the end to prevent soreness (which can stop a workout regimen
in its tracks) or injury. Dr. Manfredi adds that any stretching should
include the hamstrings and hip flexors to prevent lower back pain or injury.
“Cool downs are also important because blood can pool in your legs
if you stop exercising abruptly, and it can move more slowly back to the
heart and brain—that can cause dizziness or fainting,” Dr.
Manfredi says. “Plus, a cool down with stretching and deep cleansing
breaths helps give a sense of completion to your workout—you are
bringing your body back to a nice resting state, which can help relieve
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