For anyone who’s ever participated in a group exercise class, the following format seems pretty standard to follow no matter what the exercise is: warm up, do main exercises (or the bulk of the class) then cool down. It’s understood that the bulk of the class is to focus on the exercise whether its a cardio workout like kickboxing or dancing, a mind/body workout like yoga or Pilates or a strengthening class like an abs class or a weight lifting class. But just how important are those warm ups and cool downs? They get done but why? The fact is that the warm up and the cool down in your group ex class are just as important and your workout isn’t really complete without these bookending it.
Both the warm up and cool down should, and usually will, last anywhere between five to ten minutes. The warm up is necessary to start to loosen up your muscles, help you prepare mentally for the upcoming workout, and literally increase your blood and body temperature. Just starting a workout from a normal state greatly increases the chance for injury because muscles are not as compliant as they should be and performance will not be as optimal as it could be because it body didn’t have time to prepare itself for the workload it just endured. So make sure not to slack or blow off the warm up. The movement of a warm up (which can be anything that increases heart rate like walking, jogging, rowing or simple dance moves) increases the range of motion in joints and allows the muscles to contract more forcefully and relaxing more quickly. The warm up is also the time to get your brain ready. The mind can clear and you can increase your focus on your quickly approaching workout. The body and blood temperatures also start to rise, allowing for better endurance and performance. Once you’ve completed the warm up then the body is fully ready to do the best it can in class.
Once you’ve finished your class and have begun to congratulate on a job well down, it’s time to begin the cool down. Just as important as the warm up, the cool down further works to prevent injury and help reduce post-workout soreness. It’s generally a bad idea to go from high intensity work on the muscles to flat out nothing so cooling down offers a transitional period where your body can return to a normal state, lowering heart rate, body and blood temperatures and allowing your body to calm itself. The cool down should include gentle exercise, stretching and a chance to refuel the body. The main workout of the group exercise class is both good for the body but stressful as the same time. During the workout, large amounts of blood are pumped to the muscles being used to keep them oxygenated, and waste products like lactic acid build up in the body. When the oxygen is used up, the muscles contract and pus the blood back to the heart. If the workout is stopped cold, the blood and waste products stay in the muscle, causing pain and sometimes swelling. Cooling down helps flush out the waste products and keep the blood circulating, helping to release the strain and allowing the muscles to begin repair. It’s important to make sure to stretch out the major muscles, especially the ones just used, during a cool down to give them a break and to help ensure they won’t be as sore the next day. The body also needs a chance to refuel before you move on to the rest of your day. Make sure to drink plenty of water as you cool down and continue drinking post-workout.
Making sure you work just as hard in the warm up and cool down as you do on the major exercise activity will ensure you have a well-rounded workout and that you’ve gotten the most out of your physical activity.
Check out great group exercise classes with perfect examples of warm ups and cool downs at Fitness Formula Clubs, Chicago Athletic Clubs, Equinox or Bally’s.