Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Does anyone else struggle with taking the time to warm up and cool down before and after a workout? I know a ton of people, including myself, who struggle with it and find numerous excuses to skip these crucial parts of exercising. Although I have been guilty of this in the past, I strongly advise against skipping the warm-up and cool-down routine. I can say from personal experience that a little stretching can go a long way. Trust me; it’s worth taking the extra time. Your body will thank you later.
I remember how easy it was to warm-up when I was in my teens and early twenties. I would stretch for about 5 minutes then jog for another 2 minutes and I was good to battle on the playing fields for 4 or more hours. I’m sure many of you can relate to how easy it was. However, as I got older, I was painfully sore and stiff the day after any strenuous exercise or activity. I decided to extend my warm-up to 30 minutes but continued to neglect my cool-down because my busy life just couldn’t afford it. The result was good, but I was only able to sustain this for about two more years.
Now, it has come down to the old-fashioned 30/15 recommendation in order to get my body functional for the next day. Even if it is just a short 20 to 30 minute jog or a light shoot around of basketball, it’s well worth it. I’ve heard fitness researchers tell me that when we’re younger our workouts were 25% stretching and 75% exercise but, as we age, it should slowly become 75% stretching and 25% exercise. That’s why yoga has been a big hit with the aging population!
I’m willing to bet that most of you may not know why the warming up and cooling down recommendation came about. Here’s the truth about the warm-up. As we get older, the stress hormone cortisol builds up. It’s the same hormone that causes you to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, it is also catabolic: a hormone that breaks muscles and tendons down if sustained for a long time. The end result is more scar tissue, otherwise known as collagen, which is tough to break down.
Back to cortisol. I’m sure you can see this elevated level could be a never-ending vicious cycle for those of you who are working at a stressful job. Even a stressful desk job will elevate your cortisol levels (not to mention the UPS drivers or the construction workers who do manual labor). Over long periods of time, it will also decrease your heart’s efficiency (general wear-and-tear). So what does this mean for you? It means that blood and proper nutrients don’t go to the right places for muscle repair and healing. The worst-case scenario is heart disease or cardiomyopathies.
What does the warm-up do?
Well, it’s meant to level out all this stress to your body and gradually build it up so it can run at optimal performance. The cool-down is meant to do the same, gradually easing you back to resting form. If you choose not to cool down, you may have blood pooling. Blood pooling is when the blood from your muscles doesn’t return to circulation which can damage your veins and arteries. In the end, blood pooling can cause blood clots. What’s that mean? You could give yourself a nice lung or brain stroke and/or heart attack. Enough said.
What’s my pregame warm-up?
I usually start my warm-up at home by foam rolling. This is a cheap tool, but a great piece of equipment that helps roll out knots and the scar tissue built up in your body. Then, when I get to the field, I start off with a five minute jog for about 300-400 yards. I focus on form and full stride with heel-to-toe action upon foot contact. I choose to run first before stretching so I can start my circulatory system and get the right body parts warmed up. I end with stretching the most commonly tight muscles: the neck, chest, upper back, calves, hip flexors, and internal rotators of the hips. I usually finish up stabilizing exercises. I have a whole slew of stabilizing exercises on our YouTube channel so you can find them here.
Remember, we heal smarter, not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin