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Why Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs Are Key

They might give you a better workout.
By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Warm-ups and cool-downs take just a few minutes, and they make all the difference for a great workout. Here's how to do both right.

How to Warm Up

A short warm-up stokes your blood flow and preps your body for exercise. Your muscles respond better to challenges if they're loose and warm. Warm-ups should take 5 to 10 minutes. You'll know you're done when you feel ready for more of a challenge.

Before Cardio

Warm up with a slow-paced aerobic activity. Go for a walk, use a treadmill or elliptical trainer on a low setting, or bike at an easy pace, suggests Carol Ewing Garber, PhD. She's an associate professor of movement sciences at Teachers College, Columbia University. Start slow and gradually ramp up your pace and intensity.

Before Strength Training

Choose an easy cardio activity that warms up multiple muscles at once, such as treadmill walking, slow jogging, or easy pedaling on a stationary bicycle.

Or home in on specific muscle groups, says New York City celebrity trainer Joel Harper, whose clients include Olympic medalists. "They do 100 reps of the body part they're working that day. If they're doing shoulders, they'll do 25 punching bags in each direction with no weight, 25 shoulder presses to the side, and 25 to the front," he says.

How to Cool Down

Don't come to an abrupt stop after vigorous exercise. That can make you feel light-headed and dizzy. Cooling down keeps your heart rate and blood pressure from dropping rapidly.

Slow Cardio

Cap off your workout with 5 to 10 minutes of easy cardio. Just dial down the intensity of what you're doing, whether it's running, indoor cycling, or Zumba.

Stretching

Try ending every session with stretching, which boosts flexibility and may lower your risk of injury. Do it slowly and gently. Breathe into each stretch and don't bounce. Gentle stretches such as shoulder rolls and hip rolls are also perfect post-workout. Try chin drops, too: Lower your chin to your chest and hold for a count of five.

Dos & Don'ts

Do take longer warming up if you plan a high-intensity workout. Extend it to 10 minutes instead of 5.

Don't go from zero to 60. Start at a slow pace, and give yourself enough time to gradually bump things up.

Do stretch when your muscles are warm. Stretching cold muscles can cause injury.

Don't push a stretch too far. If it hurts, go into the stretch more easily, breathe deeply, and relax into it.

Do hold each stretch from 15 to 30 seconds.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on February 25, 2014

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