Health Action: Warming up and Cooling Down in your Exercise Routine

You should follow a routine to stretch your muscles, tendons, and ligaments before and after exercise to prevent cramping and stiffness and to minimize the risk of injury. Your warm-up should involve aerobic exercise followed by a series of stretches. After exercise, use a cool-down routine to slow the pace so that you are still warm while you stretch out your muscles. Repeat the stretches on both sides of the body and hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds. Some suitable warm-up and cool-down exercises are shown here.

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic activity increases the flow of blood through the soft tissues of the body. This increased blood flow raises their temperature and makes them more flexible. You should aim to do gentle aerobic exercises for between 8 and 10 minutes as part of both your warm-up and your cool-down routines.


Gentle jogging or running is a good way to warm up your muscles. You need to run fast enough to raise your heart rate and breathing rate. Moving your arms helps to raise your heart rate and create momentum.

Stationary cycling

Cycling slowly or with little resistance is an easy aerobic exercise that you can include as part of your cool-down routine. This exercise allows the heart rate to decrease gradually.

Upper body stretches

Stretching your chest and neck can help to relieve tension across the top of your back. Stretching your upper back by holding your arms out in front of you, clasping your hands, and rounding your back may also help. Upper body stretches improve your shoulder mobility.

Chest stretch

Clasp your hands behind you, and, while keeping your shoulders down, slowly move your arms up as far as they will go.

Neck stretch

While holding your arm out to one side, push your hand downwards. Then let your head fall to the opposite side.

Arm stretches

Like the upper body stretches, stretching your arms can help to relieve tension across the top of your back. You may find stretching easier on one side, depending on whether you are right- or left-handed. You should stretch your arms and shoulders before playing racket sports.

Full arm stretch

Cross your arms and put your hands together. Raise your arms overhead, behind your ears, and stretch upwards.

Back of arm stretch

Put one hand between your shoulder blades and pull gently on the elbow to stretch the muscle.

Leg stretches

Many sports injuries affect the legs, so making sure that you stretch your leg muscles is especially important. You should always perform a series of leg stretches before taking part in activities that rely heavily on using your legs, such as brisk walking, running, jogging, and cycling.

Hip and thigh stretch

Kneel with one knee directly above its ankle and stretch the other leg back so that the knee touches the floor. Place your hands on your front knee for stability.

Back of thigh stretch

In a lying position, bend both legs and bring one knee towards your chest. Grasp your toes with one hand and gently pull on the back of the thigh with the other.

Inner thigh stretch

With your feet wide apart, bend one knee and lean your body weight to that side. Keep your back straight; avoid twisting.

Lower leg stretch

With one leg in front of the other, put both hands on a vertical surface. Transfer your weight to your front leg and push your back heel to the floor.

Trunk stretches

Do not forget to stretch muscles in your trunk. For example, by stretching out your back and the sides of your body before and after working in the garden, you may prevent back pain.

Lower back stretch

While kneeling, place your head on the floor in front of you and stretch your arms above your head, away from your body.

Trunk-twisting stretch

Sit with one leg straight and the other bent and crossed over it. Turn towards the knee that is bent, place your arm in front of the knee, and push against that leg while turning your body towards your other arm.

Side stretch

With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand up straight. Then put one arm over your head, lean from the waist, and reach slowly to the side with your upper hand to feel the stretch.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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