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Exercise Warm-Up, Cool-Down, and Stretching

May 17, 2010

I am a creature of habit and routine.  When I go to the gym, I typically follow the same order of events from one day to the next.  However, according to research, certain activities should precede others in order to prevent injury or other health hazards.

1.  Warm-up.  What is the best method for warming up?  That depends on the exercise that you plan to do next.  A warm-up should be sport-specific, or activity specific.  For example, if you plan to run 10 miles, a proper warm-up could consist of a brisk walk, a slow jog, walking lunges, stationary squats, side steps.  Each of these movements requires use of the same muscles that are involved in running, but in a slower, more controlled movement to start.

If the exercise you have planned is resistance training, ie. bench press, a proper warm-up could consist of body-weight push-ups, or bench press with the bar only.  Both activities are less intense movement of the chest muscles which are involved in a bench press exercise.

The idea of the warm-up is to recruit more muscle fibers to contract before increasing the intensity of the exercise in order to prevent injury.

2.  Cool-down.  The concept of “cooling-down” pertains mostly to athletes following intense cardiovascular exercise.  During intense cardiovascular exercise, not only is your heart pumping hard and fast, but the muscles in your legs help pump the veins to keep the blood moving as well.  If you stop suddenly, blood pools in the legs instead of continuing to circulate up to the heart and brain.  This physiologic reaction can cause you to be dizzy or pass out.  Therefore, it is always a good idea to slow down gradually, and let the heart pick up its share of the workload before you stop.

Many people believe that cooling down will prevent muscle soreness by eliminating lactic acid from the blood.  However, there is no research to support this theory.  Muscle soreness is the result of small tears in the muscle, not lactic acid build-up.

3.  Stretching.  According to research, stretching before or after exercise does not prevent injury or reduce muscle soreness.  Coaches, gym teachers, and trainers everywhere need to be made aware of this evidence! However, this does not mean that stretching does not serve an important purpose for athletes.  Stretching elongates the muscles and tendons to allow for greater torque on a joint, which allows athletes to throw further, jump higher, run faster, etc.

Research does support the common-held belief that you should not stretch when your muscles are cold.  Warm up first, then stretch.

Stretching before or after exercise does not prevent muscle soreness or reduce risk of injury: systematic review BMJ Volume 325 pp 468-70, 451-2

Be Well!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2010 1:04 am

    Cool down… it’s now possible to speed up the recovery of normal acid base equilibrium in the body for faster adaptation and healing of muscle tissue, which requires the optimal cellular pH.

    Warm-up… it’s now possible to balance VO2max in all muscle groups in 5-7 minutes prior to a sports specific workout.

    Stretching.. balancing muscle groups while dynamically stretching of all joints through their range of motion at an accelerated heart rate with equitable circulation in all tissues helps prevent injury and improves sports performance.

    Dynamic stretching (as opposed to static stretching), when combined with muscle balance under conditions of pH balance at Peak Metabolic Potential™ (PMP™) elicits an entirely new physiological response. It really needs to be experienced to be understood, the concept is so radical.

    Feel free to ask me anything about how Body’Fit pH Fitness™ (pHx™) works, or just google pH fitness…

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