Warming up and down are an important part of any exercise session - they prepare your body mentally and physically. Whatever you were doing previously, that warm up will give you time to refocus on getting the most out of your activity. And warming down is essential, as it makes a long term difference to the way your body recovers from exertion and carries on benefiting from calorie use. Get into the habit of warming up, and make it an enjoyable part of your routine.
Professional athletes often warm up using drills that emulate some of the movements they're about to do 'for real'. Whatever your level of fitness, you should think about doing warm up exercises that are pertinent to your next fitness session. If you're about to do an hour's cardiovascular exercise, starting out with some low-level effort is a good idea. For strength training, begin with a set of the exercise at a lower weight. The benefits to being specific about your warm up are:
- Mobilising all the joints and muscles you'll be using.
- Practicing and refining the right techniques.
- Identifying if you have any muscle tightness you need to deal with.
Stretching is an excellent activity to include in your warm up - and down. Don't overdo it, over-extending your reach is counter productive and causes problems. Try not to bounce when you stretch: dynamic or static stretches should always be controlled movements. Move gently and gradually, stretching a joint naturally is the best way to improve your flexibility.
Use light cardio in warm downs
Light cardio work is often used in gym classes or 'class activites' at the end of a session. The reason for this is that cardio work pumps oxygen-rich blood through your muscles, which will help flush out any waste products. Don't underestimate the value of warming down comprehensively: it will make a big difference to your overall recovery levels.
Refuel and hydrate
Strictly speaking, you should be hydrating throughout your exercise session. But as you warm down, do use the opportunity to take on board fluids and carbohydrate-rich snacks - like a banana, or cereal bar. Be aware that many 'energy drinks' contain elevated sugar levels: you should use these as part of a balanced diet. And don't forget, your body refuels best immediately after training. Capitalise on that efficiency as much as you can.
Read more about stretching. It's a good way to start your warm up, and warm down after exercise.