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Sentara Martha Jefferson Orthopedics and Spine


4 Warm-up and Cool Down Tips

If you’ve got a quick window to squeeze in a workout, you may be tempted to skip your warmup and cool down and plow through your exercise routine.

Not so fast. Eliminating those important steps can be detrimental to your muscles, joints and overall performance, says Nicholas Law, a physical therapist at Sentara Martha Jefferson. Here  are four common questions about warm-ups and cool downs to help you plan your workout :

Why should I warm up before exercising and what is the best way to do so?

Warming up properly before a cardiovascular or resistance (weights) workout provides numerous benefits. Some include increased joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, improved muscle endurance and overall improved performance while exercising. Most trainers recommend an active warm up consisting of light aerobic activity (i.e. walking, biking, elliptical) and dynamic stretching — a type of stretching when a joint or muscle is taken through its entire range of motion at moderate, controlled speeds.

Some athletes may benefit from some form of self-myofascial release. One way to do this is to use a foam roller to loosen tense connective tissue.

A warm up should conclude with a less intense form of the exercise you are about to do. For instance, you might simply choose a lighter weight during resistance exercise as you progress to heavier weights, or a lower speed of walking/running/biking as you progress to faster speeds.

A typical warm up should last 5-10 minutes.

What are the benefits of stretching before or after a workout? 

Stretching improves joint range of motion and muscle flexibility. Stretching programs generally fail to show a reduced risk of injury in a healthy population. However, reduced joint and muscle flexibility may predispose an individual to certain conditions. For example, tight calf muscles have been shown to be a risk factor for developing heel pain (i.e. plantar fasciitis). The best stretching program is one that’s specifically tailored to the needs of each person. Talk to a trainer at your gym or a physical therapist to find out what’s best for you.

What is the most effective way to stretch?

Stretching is traditionally separated into two different types: dynamic and static.

With dynamic stretching, the joints and muscles are warmed up by taking them through their entire range of motion at moderate, controlled speeds, with a progressive increase in reach and range of motion as the movement is repeated several times.

Static stretching is the more traditional form of stretching in which a joint or muscle is held at the end of its range of motion for an extended period of time. However, studies have shown that static stretching before exercise is actually detrimental to performance, especially if the stretches are hold for longer durations. For this reason, dynamic stretching is recommended before exercise and static stretching afterwards (or separate from exercise).

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends static stretches be held at the point of tightness or slight discomfort for 10-30 seconds and repeated two to four times, with the goal of achieving at least 60 seconds of total stretch time (and older adults may benefit from even longer holds). Stretching should be performed at least 2 to 3 times per week with greater benefit accruing if it is performed daily.

Why should I cool down after exercising?

Performing a cool down consisting of light aerobic activity allows the cardiovascular system to gradually transition back to baseline following exercise. This is especially important for those who have any kind cardiovascular medical history. Performing some kind of myofascial release technique (such as foam rolling or the use of a roller massager) after exercise helps to reduce soreness and restore subsequent muscular performance.


-Nicholas Law, DPT, OCS, is a staff physical therapist at Sentara Martha Jefferson’s Outpatient Rehab department in Charlottesville, VA. He is residency-trained and board-certified in orthopedic physical therapy.