Today's topic of discussion will be how to (and the importance of) properly warming up and cooling down.
The warm up sets the course for the rest of the workout. The better you warm up, the better you will perform. When it comes down to it, there’s two main purposes to warming up.
Raise the heart rate, get blood directed to the muscles.
Mobilize and lubricate the joints - prime the body for movement.
I like to use the analogy of a car. You should never go full throttle on a cold engine, bad things will happen. Same goes for your body. Both require some movement and heat to warm up inside, then it can go hard. Your muscles are also like elastic bands. Imagine heating a band up and then stretching it, pretty easy right? Now imagine putting the band in the freezer overnight, then try stretching it... It will snap a lot easier. To put this into a gym perspective;
Warm Ups have to be done with movement, so dynamic stretching is the way to go. Dynamic stretches are movements such as your butt kicks, frankensteins, and arm circles. This is going to help the muscles warm up and become much more elastic. Something that should NOT be included in a warm up are static stretches (unless for mobility purposes). Static stretches are when you take the muscle to its lengthened state, and hold it at that length. Most likely what you were taught in gym class, unfortunately.
The reason we do not want to use static stretching before exercising, is that it obviously lengthens the muscle. A muscle will lose elasticity the longer it is stretched, and that can impair your workout in many ways. Not only will your performance suffer, you will also be more susceptible to injury. This is why static stretches should be kept for the cooldown.
Static stretches do have their place, and it is at the end of the workout. Static stretches, as well as active recovery, are great for dissipating the pooling of lactic acid that builds up throughout the workout. Static stretching is also great for improving flexibility, so it will benefit future workouts, just should never be done directly before. A nice, speed descending walk with static stretching at the end would be a great way to cool down from your workout.
So there it is, warming up and cooling down in a nutshell. And as always, come see me if you have any questions.