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Do You Have to Warm Up and Cool Down When You Exercise?

Posted by Jill Derryberry on Jun 18, 2024 4:45:12 PM
Jill Derryberry
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I know it is tough to find time to exercise, let alone another 5 minutes to warm up before and 10 minutes to stretch or foam roll after you work out.  But you can get more from your workout and be less likely to have an injury if you do any type of dynamic warm up before and muscle lengthening with static stretches after exercise. 


Warm Up 

A good warm up will gradually increase your heart rate and increase circulation to your muscles, tendons and ligaments. This helps prevent injury. Don't confuse a warm up with stretching. The warm up prepares your body for what is to come. It should be dynamic, that is, not holding a movement like you would when you perform a static stretch. Static stretching focuses on specifically lengthening your muscles which is more beneficial if done after a workout.     


Types of Stretches 

Static Stretches:  to extend a muscle group to its maximal point and holding it for 10-60 seconds.  Static stretches can be either active or passive.  In an active stretch added force is applied by the individual for greater intensity.  Added force is added by an external force in a passive stretch. 


Dynamic Stretching:  unlike static stretching, dynamic stretches are continuous movements that usually mimic the exercise or sport to be performed.  These types of stretches are usually done as a warmup. 


Ballistic Stretching:  this type of stretching isn’t frequently recommended.  It utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group.  The bouncing movements can trigger a stretch reflex and may cause a risk for injury, so they are not usually recommended without supervision from a Trainer.   
A warm up can consist of walking in place, low intensity versions of some of the activities you are going to be performing, and dynamic stretches (i.e. Arm circles). Doing this for 5 - 10 minutes before your workout can help prevent injury by warming up your muscles and making your tendons and ligaments more flexible helping to prevent tears. 


 Cool Down 

 After your workout, it is important to gradually bring down your heart rate back to its resting rate and to stretch your muscles.  Our everyday lives can lend to shortened muscles, especially after sitting for long periods of time.  Shortened muscles, in turn, decrease range of motion and can trigger body aches and pains.  Working out can leave our muscles shortened and feeling tight as well.  Lengthening the muscles through static stretching after your workout can help your muscles recover from your workout and potentially leave you with less soreness.  Stretching helps keep muscles long, healthy and strong.   


Research has shown that stretching can help improve both your body’s flexibility and mobility.  Mobility is the range of motion of your joints.  Flexibility is the ability of your muscles, tendons and ligaments to lengthen.  For example, flexibility is being able to reach down and touch your toes.  Your hamstring muscles must lengthen, or be flexible, to be able to reach your toes.  An example of mobility is your ankle flexing so that you can lower into a squat.  If your ankle won’t bend as much, you can’t go as low into a squat.  Going back to the toe reach example, someone could have good hamstring flexibility but limited mobility at the hip joint keeping them from reaching their toes (or vice versa).  Mobility and flexibility do sometimes go hand in hand, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing.  What matter most is that you do need both to perform at your best.    


Better flexibility and mobility can help to improve your performance in physical activities, reduce potential aches and pains, decrease your risk of injuries, and enable your muscles to work most effectively.   


Stretching will help you stay active as you age.  Improving mobility and maintaining flexibility (which naturally declines as we age) allows our body to stay in top shape.  Maintaining flexibility while aging can decrease the risk of injury, improve balance, decrease chronic pain, improve workouts, improves posture and keeps you looking younger!  The more we care for our bodies, the longer we can continue to be active and live independently.   


Stretch regularly.  You will get the most benefits if you stretch at least 2 – 3 times a week consistently and after you exercise. 


Remember to breathe!  Inhale right before you start the stretch and exhale as you relax your muscles and lean into the stretch.  For static stretches, stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds while breathing in and out normally.   


Foam Rolling 


Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that focuses on loosening and breaking up tension in the fascia as well as releasing muscle tightness.  It is similar to what happens to your fascia and muscle tissue when you receive a massage.  The foam roller will never completely replace a massage therapist’s hands, but it serves as a great alternative and can be done anytime.  It can be added before a warm up or before stretching at the end of your workout. 


Most people who foam roll use cylinders made of compressed foam varying in size from 1 to 3 feet long. These foam rollers are often 6 inches in diameter and come in different firmness levels.  Foam Rollers can be purchased just about anywhere and are provided at each LivRite location. 


Three Benefits to Foam Rolling 


1. Increased Blood Flow      

As part of a warm up, foam rolling should be done first thing to get the blood flowing to your muscles (which helps reduce the possibility of injury).  This should be done before you do some dynamic stretching before you exercise.  After your workout, foam rolling helps flush out the blood that has pooled in the working muscles and allows fresh nutrients and oxygen to come in and begin the healing process (which helps to reduce soreness). 


2. Increased Flexibility and Range of Motion 

Studies have found that when combined with static stretching, foam rolling can lead to impressive flexibility improvements.  Increased flexibility helps to limit soreness and prevent injuries.   


3.  Relieve Pain  

  Foam rolling can work out muscle tightness, soreness or any knots you may feel in your muscles.  While rolling these spots you may experience some discomfort.  It should not be unbearable though, and when you are done it should feel better.  Releasing these muscle knots and tightness helps to return your muscles elasticity and reestablish proper movement patterns along with making movement pain free.   


All three of these benefits help prevent injury and decrease recovery time after a workout.  Pair foam rolling with static stretching (in that order) after your activity for best results.   


Are you ready to roll?  Here are four foam rolling moves to get you started: 


Upper Back Roll 

Lie down with your back on the floor. Place a foam roller underneath your upper back and cross your arms in front of you or behind your head, protracting your shoulder blades. Raise your hips off the ground, placing your weight onto the roller. Shift your weight to one side, rolling the upper to mid back. Alternate sides.  

Hamstrings Roll 

Sit and extend your legs over a foam roller so that it is on the back of your upper legs.  Place your hands behind you and lift your hips off the floor.  Roll from below the hip to above the back of the knee.   

Quadriceps Roll 

Lie face-down on the floor with your weight supported by your hands or forearms. Place a foam roller underneath your thighs.  Roll from above the knee to below the hip.  

Preparing your body for exercise by completing a dynamic warm up prior to starting a workout and stretching your muscles after you exercise will help you reduce the risk of injury, get the most from your workout, and reduce aches and pains among other benefits.  It’s worth the time and should be part of your exercise routine.   

When dealing with injuries or joints and muscles that are particularly painful, consult your physician prior to implementing a new workout, stretch or foam roll. 



Zmijewski P, Lipinska P, Czajkowska A, Mróz A, Kapuściński P, Mazurek K. Acute effects of a static vs. a dynamic stretching warm-up on repeated-sprint performance in female handball players. J Hum Kinet. 2020;72:161-172. Published 2020 Mar 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0043 


Hendricks S, Hill H, Hollander S den, Lombard W, Parker R. Effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery: A systematic review of the literature to guide practitioners on the use of foam rolling. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2020;24(2):151-174. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2019.10.019 


Pearcey GEP, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015;50(1):5-13. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01 


Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, et al. A meta-analysis of the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376. DOI:10.3389/fphys.2019.00376 


South Dakota State University Extension.Benefits of stretching. 


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