9 Warm-Up and Cooldown Mistakes Wrecking Your Workout

Warm-ups and cooldowns are the glue of your workouts. Done correctly, warming up and cooling down may help reduce the risk of injury, improve athletic performance and increase desired fitness results.

Save the static stretches for after your workout. (Image: djiledesign/iStock/GettyImages)

Even though it only takes a few extra minutes, it's easy to fall into the habit of skipping either or both. So before your next gym session, try a 10-minute warm-up and a 10-minute cooldown. Keep these nine tips in mind, and you'll give your body the best chance to stay healthy and free of injury.

1. Skipping Your Warm-Up

Avoiding your warm-up may be tempting, especially if you're pressed for time, but it can do more harm than good. The point is to defrost yourself before your pedal-to-the-metal workouts.

Ideally, a good warm-up will include range-of-motion exercises, dynamic stretches (ones that involve movement) and balance activities to prep your body for exercise. These types of activities raise your heart rate and core body temperature gradually and pump more blood to your muscles. Dynamic stretches and balance activities also help prevent injury during workouts.

2. Starting Off With Too Much Intensity

Slow and steady wins the race! A solid warm-up should mimic what you plan on doing in your workout, but at a much lighter and gentler pace. Think of it as your workout in slow motion or at a lower intensity. Going full-throttle without warm muscles can lead to muscle strain or even a tear.

So if you're planning on doing a lot of squats, deadlifts and lunges (sounds like leg day), make sure you do dynamic stretches that target the hips, quads, hamstrings and the rest of your lower body.

3. Doing Static Stretches First

Stretching is vital to your workouts, but only when it's the right kind of stretching. Applying static stretches (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or more) during a warm-up has been shown to actually be detrimental to athletic performance.

A 2013 review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that static stretches can reduce muscle strength by nearly 5.5 percent (or more when a stretch is held longer!), cut muscle power by two percent and reduce power by nearly three percent. Make sure your pre-workout stretches involve movement.

4. Not Warming Up Long Enough

Most of us have been guilty of it at some point: two minutes on the treadmill and we're done with our warm-up! But the American Heart Association says that an effective warm-up should last between five and 10 minutes.

But the more intense the activity, the longer you should warm up. Your muscles need adequate time to circulate blood and loosen up. A great way to know if your warm-up is sufficient is to use a timer and give yourself enough time to break a slight sweat and raise your breathing rate.

5. Performing the Same Warm-Up for Every Workout

Unless you're doing the same workout day in and day out, your warm-up will need some adjusting! You're targeting different muscles with each workout, so focusing on your upper body, lower body or whole body all require a specific routine. And sports require specialized warm-up routines as well.

A simple walk on the treadmill for five minutes won't cut it when you're working your upper body. You need to warm up the muscles you'll be using — even if that means all of them! Dynamic movements that go through a full range of motion combined with some light cardio will help achieve optimal workout success!

6. Not Cooling Down Afterward

Although you may save time, you aren't doing your body any favors by forgoing your cooldown. An abrupt halt immediately after your workout harms your muscles as well as your heart. During an intense workout, your body goes through a number of stressful processes that involve muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments getting damaged just enough to grow back stronger.

Additionally, waste products like lactic acid build up within your body. Avoiding a cooldown can increase soreness (called DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness) and even result in blood pooling. But a proper cooldown prompts your body to begin its repair process.

7. Stopping Your Workout Suddenly

The main goal of a cooldown is to lower your core temperature and heart rate, preparing your muscles for recovery. But that's harder to do if you immediately plunk down on the mat for some seated, static stretches.

Lowering your intensity gradually is the best way to end your session. If you're running, bring it to a jog, then a brisk walk, then a slower walk. This gradual decrease in intensity will help calm the body and mind and should be included in every cooldown.

8. Not Stretching Properly

Muscle soreness is one of the most popular reasons people skip their workouts. One way to lessen the soreness is to stretch for the right amount of time after working out. During a workout, lactic acid builds up in the muscles, often leading to muscle soreness, stiffness and fatigue.

This is where static stretching comes in. Warm muscles are ideal for a static-hold stretch. You should aim to do three rounds of 30 seconds per muscle group you trained. Remember, stretching should never be painful. If you feel any pain at all, stop and talk to a qualified professional like a doctor or physical therapist who can assess the situation better.

9. Not Using a Foam Roller

If you haven't given foam rolling a try yet, there's no better time to start! A 2015 study from Memorial University in Newfoundland found that it not only increases joint range of motion, but also reduces muscle soreness and speeds muscle recovery. Even better news: Foam rollers are inexpensive and can be purchased online or in most sporting goods stores.

One thing to consider when getting a foam roller is density. Medium-density foam rollers will be less painful and offer less compression, while high-density ones will get deeper into the tissue, but will potentially be more uncomfortable.

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