When you attend any workout class, there should be three consistent elements: warm-up, workout and cool down. Any instructor worth their salt learns these principles as part of a fitness instructor certification. And while we all want the work – that’s why we get to class in the first place, right? – those class bookends are what matter the most.
It’s just that – warming up the body for work. Let’s face it, you don’t walk into boot camp and immediately start doing lunges and squats, or stroll into cycle, sit down and go pedal to the medal in the highest gear. Instead you build your body up to that point.
According to the American Heart Association, “A good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart.” A warm up will incorporate slower movements, like jogging that leads to running, bringing about all of these mentioned effects.
Also, the body’s flexibility increases with a warm up, which lessens the possibility of injury, which protects these precious bodies of ours we want to keep healthy as long as possible!
A warm-up should last about 5-10 minutes, depending on class length and intensity. To learn more about the importance of a good warm-up, click here.
While I love a good warm-up, I write this piece out of homage to the cool down. Why does the cool down get so little love? The cool down has a defined purpose: to bring the body as close to where it was before the work out started.
Without a doubt, when you finish the work portion of a fitness class you will notice your pulse is higher, you’re sweating and you’re focusing on steadying your breath. This is in part because your blood pressure is higher and your blood vessels are dilated. Your body is very warm, looser than when you started, and should be much more flexible. At this point, our bodies need to acclimate back to their normal states – we need to gradually bring ourselves back to our resting heart rate and our normal breath. This is done with slower cardio movements, stretching (particularly those areas we’ve targeted) and focusing on slowing the breath, which will slow the heart rate.
And what’s the best thing about the cool down? Not only does it help get us back to “normal,” it’s our reward for a job well done. And I don’t know about you, but I love to be rewarded!
A cool down should take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. You can learn more about why cooling down is a good idea here.
Want more info?
What I’ve provided you with here is a thumbnail sketch of the warm-up and cool down. If you want to learn more specifics about these two fitness class elements, or more about the science behind how these elements affect the body, I highly recommend visiting these sites: ACE.org or Heart.org. You can never be too educated about how to protect your biggest investment – your body!