Heading into the gym, immediately hopping on a piece of equipment, and plugging away is a surefire way to end up with an injury and a shortened workout. Heading straight from the squat rack to the smoothie bar is another no-no if you want to recover quicker and feel ready for your next workout session.
Warm ups and cool downs are essential to help your body handle the stresses of a lifting session. Besides injury prevention, both are imperative for increased flexibility, better strength, and enhanced circulation. A proper warm up allows for a gentle increase in activity, raising body heat and preparing tendons and ligaments for work. A cool down after a hard lifting or cardio session allows your body to slowly return heart rate to normal and provides an opportunity to flush waste products from the muscle back into the circulator system.
Unfortunately, just hitting the treadmill for a couple minutes before and after a workout doesn’t quite cut it. A proper and detailed warm up moves the body in multiple planes of motion (not just forward and backward), mimics the movements performed in the workout, and starts slow then progresses to harder motions. Similarly, a good cool down involves soft-tissue work and stretching tight areas affected by the workout done that day.
To build a proper warm up, start with a few minutes of walking on the treadmill and foam-rolling on areas that are tight or need some extra attention. Then, select 4-6 bodyweight exercises that incorporate forward and backward as well as side-to-side and twisting motions. Perform them back-to-back with little rest in-between to raise your heart rate and increase your flexibility.
After your workout, cool down with a few minutes of easy walking to reflect on your workout, but also allow for a gentle slowing of the heart rate and increase in circulation. Then, hit the foam roller to work on areas used during the workout. This will help to flush away waste products and decrease recovery time before the next session. Lastly, use a few static or assisted stretches on exceptionally tight areas to restore muscle length.