Tips for Effective Warm-Up and Cool Down To Prevent Injury

“Doc, I’ve seen all your videos, but when should I be performing these things? I have no pain, I feel great, and do I need to be rolling my traps out? How often? ETC ETC ETC.” These are some questions I get asked quite a bit. I wanted to elaborate on “proper” or to be more specific, my personal tips on warming up and cooling down before and after exercise. These tips will help lead to a better workout, and stave off potential injury. While most people are effective at some form of a warm-up prior to exercise, there are a number of measures that can be taken to improve this. Additionally, many of us simply cannot find the time for an effective cool down adequate enough to prevent injury.
Warm-Up Tips:
1. Start with simple cardio based movements.
The warm-up should be just that, warming tissues and preparing them for exercise. I recommend starting any exercise regiment with several minutes of cardio-based work, at a very low intensity. Running, biking, elliptical, etc. are sufficient enough to increase the heart rate, perfuse blood into tissues, and get the body moving to prepare for more intense exercise. Additionally, if your work out for the day is intense, cardio based, think HIIT workouts, and increase the intensity on this cardio warm up. This is especially important for those of us who spend most of our days seated at a desk.

2. Progress with simple range of motion exercises, targeting the body parts to be trained. Save the static stretching for post exercise. Focus on movement in this part of the warm up. For squats, for example, perform air squats, leg swings, lunges, and movement based stretches to prepare for further loading. Use this part of the warm-up to work without load, and take note of any particular sticky, sore, or painful areas, and spend more time warming these tissues
3. Use resistance bands and progressive loading to fully prepare for the workout. Resistance bands are a great tool to add light loading into movements that will be performed in the workout. Use multiple resistances across multiple ranges of motion that will be performed to ensure all muscle fibers are prepared for exercise. For barbell exercises, use this step to perform the movements with an empty barbell, focusing on higher repetitions, speed, and quality of movement. For cardio based exercise, METCONS, and HIIT workouts, progressively increase your heart rate during this phase.

Cool Down Tips:
Congrats, the hard part is over! Use these tips to lengthen tissues and mobilize.

1. Use this time to lengthen tissues that have been worked. Static stretching and banded distraction stretches are best utilized post exercise. Relax into these stretches and take the opportunity of loose tissues to expand ranges of motion and flexibility.
2. For cardio based exercises, bring your heart rate down slowly, the reverse of the warm-up.
3. Smashing, rolling, and compression inhibit neurologic input, and should be performed post-exercise. Let any points of tension, discomfort, or tightness be your guide as to what should be worked.
4. For any exercise involving the lower body, be sure to focus on the quads, hamstrings, and psoas muscles. These muscles are shortened with sitting in a car, a necessity for almost all of us leaving a gym. Skipping the cool down and stretching these muscles can lead to future injuries, and pain.

Use these tips as a guide to preventing injuries and making your next workout your best yet. As a general rule, move more in your warm-up, perform light exercises that focus on increasing range of motion and incorporate unweighted or more basic movements that will be performed in the main workout. Focus on increasing range of motion, mobility, and decreasing soreness with your cool downs. Incorporating more movement into your warm ups increases your special awareness, and awareness of any potential soreness or discomfort that may have otherwise not been noticed until it was too late. An effective cool down lengthens and mobilizes the exercised tissues and prevents further tightening and discomfort. Do what feels good to you, and makes you feel prepared and improved prior to and after exercise.