Warm-ups and cool-downs are essential for every workout, whether you're training for the marathon or soccer. According to Sports Injury Clinic, warm-ups increase blood circulation, oxygen demand and the range of motion in your joints, which better prepares you for activity. A cool-down gradually decreases body temperature and reduces the risk of blood pooling in your working muscles and tissues. Examples of warm-ups and cool-down vary, from dynamic movements to gentle stretching and breathing.
Although stretching is recommended by most textbooks and sports professionals, much research shows that dynamic warm-ups can improve your performance and possibly significantly reduce your risk of getting injured. Dynamic warm-ups, which are sometimes called dynamic stretching, involve moving your joints repetitively within your full range of motion. A study performed at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan showed that subjects who performed dynamic stretching had a significantly higher strength output in the leg extension exercise than the group that did static stretching, which is stretching a muscle to a point of mild tension for 15 to 30 seconds without otherwise moving the body. Researchers at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur found that soccer players who performed dynamic stretching performed better at the in-step kick than those who performed static stretching or no stretching. They concluded that dynamic stretching can increase the chances of scoring and reduce the risks of hip injuries.
Choose exercises that mimic as close as possible the activity and movements that you'll be doing. For example, if you run, play tennis or spar in boxing, perform warm-ups that are in the standing position. This is based on the SAID principle, which stands for "specific adaptation to imposed demands." This means that your body adapts and improves what you train it to do, according to physical therapist Tony Ingram. A study published in the April 2013 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" showed that passive stretching to improve flexibility has no carryover to specific movement patterns, such as lunging and extending your hips in a standing position.
Dynamic warm-ups often move more than one joint or muscle group. These movement patterns can be quick and rhythmic, such as lateral leg swings, swinging arm circles and standing hip circles, or they can be slow and rhythmic, such as tai chi and modern dance movements. Dynamic warm-ups can also mimic movement of a specific sport skill, for example, a lateral lunge and ground reach, body-weight squats, medicine ball swings and single-leg hops. Always maintain rhythmic breathing that can help you control the force and coordinate your movements.
Cool-downs involve exercises that slow down your heart rate, blood flow and nervous system activity. These could include gentle stretches, breathing exercises based on yoga or tai chi and walking at a brisk pace for five to 10 minutes. These exercises don't need to be sports specific, but they should address the entire body rather than specific muscles. You can even use some of the warm-up exercises to wind you down. Cool-down exercises include Sun Salutation, qi gong breathing, supine torso twists and lateral side bends. You may even want to dance freestyle to your favorite song as part of your cool-down.