Whether you are playing a friendly game against your friends, a competitive game against another team in a league, or entering into a solo exercise regimen, warming up before physical activities and cooling down afterwards is an important part of a healthy workout. While it may be tempting to skip the warm-up and go directly to the main event, it is important to take the time to warm-up and stretch your muscles.

According to Kara Mayer Robinson, warm-ups increase your blood flow and prepare your body for the physical exertion included in exercise. Working out gives your muscles, heart, and even your brain extra work. Warming up gives your body a chance to realize that extra work is coming. Just like in your academic studies, you like to know when the tests, assignments, and exams are due so you can prepare yourself. Your body can increase oxygen and nutrients going to your muscles, decrease the risk of having a rapid increase in blood pressure, and prepare the pathways between your nerves and muscles for the physical activity to come.

One of the best warm-up methods is an easy cardio activity that affects multiple muscles at once and increases the blood flow. Alternatively, if you are doing targeted weight training, you should focus on large muscle groups before moving on to exercises specific to the muscle groups you will be working that day.

Even after warming up, it is important not to start your activities at full intensity; gradually work up to your full physical potential. Overall, warming up can increase your coordination, stamina, and quality of the workout, but it can also help to mentally prepare you for the workout ahead; getting into the right frame of mind or getting “pumped up”.

Cooling down is equally as important. While you have just finished exerting yourself and want to rest, it is important to start your cool-down routine. Stopping immediately after physical activity, especially strenuous activity, can cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy. Cool-downs work to let your body gradually decrease your bodily functions, including heart rate and blood pressure. According to Robinson, 10 minutes of easy cardio activity is usually effective. This could include cycling, either outside or on a stationary bike, walking, or even running if the pace and intensity is lessened. Followed by stretching, your cool-down will allow your muscles to work at a decreased rate.

Stretching is beneficial at both the beginning and end of physical activity. Stretching should occur slowly and gently, when muscles are warm. Avoid bouncing as you’re stretching and focus on ensuring your stretch is executed smoothly. Stretches should be held for fifteen to thirty seconds. If there is pain or resistance, don’t push through it. Ease the stretch to a point where the pain stops or try a less strenuous stretch that targets the same muscle groups and ease into it. If there is still pain, it is important to consult with a physical therapist, trainer, or other expert who can advise you on your individual situation. You can also consult a professional if you are concerned about the proper way to stretch.

Stretching is an easy and quick method of increasing flexibility, range of motion, and also helps to decrease risk of some injuries. However, it is not a guarantee of an injury-free workout. While stretching is an important part of warming up and cooling down, it should only be a part of your routine and should be used in conjunction with more active warm-up and cool-down exercises.

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