What's the point of a warm up and cool down before and after an exercise session? It's just a time filler right?
Wrong! Warm ups and cool downs are important to help improve performance, reduce the risk of injury and improve recovery following exercise.
Warm ups prepare your body and your mind for the exercise to come. Greater blood flow is directed to tissues in the musculoskeletal system, preparing them for high intensity exercise.
For simple cardio exercises, such as distance running, cycling or swimming, simply doing that task at a reduced pace and gradually increasing the pace is an adequate warm up.
For sprint running, cycling or swimming, or for sports involving sprinting, jumping, changes of direction etc, dynamic stretches should form part of the warm up, as well as a gradually increased cardio exercise.
Static stretches were popular in warm ups in the past, but recent research has shown that performing passive stretches prior to exercise actually impairs performance and does not reduce the risk of injury.
Performing a cool down following exercise will help you recover better and more quickly following exercise.
While you have increased blood flow to the musculoskeletal tissues, there will be more fluid for the lymphatic system to clear. Muscle activity promotes lymphatic drainage and so while you're exercising this fluid is cleared effectively.
When you stop exercising there is a delay in your blood flow returning to normal. If you stop exercising completely then during this delay more fluid will pool in your tissues because the lymphatic system will not be working as well to clear it.
By performing very gentle whole-body exercise during this delay, the lymphatic system will continue to clear the fluid buildup as the blood flow returns to normal. So an effective warm up is, for example, going from a slow run to walking over around 5-10 minutes.
While you might see a warm up and cool down as just time you could spend exercising more intensely, by making time to perform a proper warm up and cool down you should find you get more out of your exercise, recover more effectively and get injured less often.