Sunday, May 24, 2009

Warming ups and cooling downs

Are warming up and cooling down exercises necessary Prior To Exercise Workout?

Chia Kwek Fah

Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Sports Science)

Certified Master Coach in Karate-do (Singapore Sports Council)

Certified Sport Trainer (Australia)

Certified First Aider (Singapore)


We see lots of public performing exercise routine at the public parks or private gyms. Very often these people just walk to the exercise premises and straight away starting their routines. Some may perform some kind of warming up stretching before going into their daily workout.


There are two fundamental questions we need to us ourselves: 1. Are these warming up and cooling down exercise necessary? 2. What are the appropriate exercises for these purposes?


What are the benefits gained when we performed warming ups and cool downs?

According to American College of Exercise (ACE) Personal Coach Manual, warming ups would bring about important physiologic changes that reduce the risk of injury  and make the exercise more comfortable1.  A proper warm-up would increase body  and muscle temperature, increase blood flow, and may enhance performance2.  Warm-up and cool-down phases are the periods of metabolic and cardiorespiratory adjustment from rest to exercise and exercise to rest, respectively. These exercises should be as similar to the actual workout as possible, it could be performed at 50% of the stimulus intensity3. Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle stated clearly that a well-designed warm-up can increase muscle temperature, core temperature and blood flow and it also disrupt transient connective tissue bonds. With these in mind, warm-up would have positive impacts on performance: 1. Faster muscle contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles 2. Improvement in the rate of force development and reaction time 3. Improvement in muscle strength and power 4. Lowered viscous resistance in muscles 5. Improved oxygen delivery due to the Bohr effect, whereby higher temperatures facilitate oxygen release from hemoglobin and myoglobin. 6. Increased blood flow to active muscles and  7. Enhanced metabolic reactions.4 Stopping the exercise abruptly may cause dizziness, nauseated or both. Therefore, a cooling down exercise that lasts 5 to 10 minutes is necessary to overcome this symptom. This is to provide time to re-circulate blood back to the heart from specific muscle groups. Walking, easy jogging or a series of stretching exercises will be appropriate for this cooling down exercises.5


The next question we need to address is: Whether we start off with dynamic warming up exercise or static warming up exercise prior to actual performance? With recent research in this area, we believe dynamic warming exercise would benefit more to the athletes than static warming ups. Avery D. Faigenbaun and his team concluded in their research that it may be desirable for children to perform moderate- to high-intensity dynamic exercises prior to the performance of activities that require a high power output.6 As stated in the beginning of this article, warming ups are meant to increase body temperature and heart rate to accommodate the exercise workout that follows, it has no concrete scientific resource to prove that it would reduce injuries that arise from the exercise.


The usual dynamic exercises for warming ups would be slow jogging for 5 to 10 minutes, skipping for 5 minutes, etc. This would raise the heart rate as well as to raise the body and core temperature physiologically. After the jogging or skipping, dynamic stretches must be performed. This would enhance the elasticity quality in muscles, activate the neuromuscular junctions in joints. The dynamic stretching should imitate the actual movements of the exercise that follows. This would provide the body a 'Dry run' on the exercise to come. The intensity of these dynamic exercise shall perform with 40% to 50%, higher than this proportion would impair the exercise that follows; because the muscle groups may get fatigue.


In terms of martial art warming up exercises, starting with 5 minutes of slow jog, and follow by various dynamic stretching would be most appropriate. The whole warming up would last from 10 minutes to 15 minutes, according to the age group and physical conditions of the trainees. All stretching would be done slowly into the stretched position, the athlete would only feel the stretch, not PAIN.  Breath must be done, no one should hold their breath during these exercises. Each stretch is held for 15 to 30 seconds, and perform at least twice.7


As for cooling down, slow jog or quick walk then follow by static stretching would be enough. This is to provide adequate time for the blood from the exercise active muscle groups to return back to the rest the of body. This would prevent dizziness or nausea to occur.8 


Even with other forms of exercise, the warming up and cooling down routines are similar in principle, the differences would be in its dynamic and static stretching, these would adhere with its own performing activity that follows.


Cooling down is another important component in exercise routine that most people would ignore. The primary aims for cooling down are: restoration of function, neauromuscular recovery, tissue repair, resolution of muscle soreness and psychological recovery. The time frame for cooling down is approximately 5 to 15 minutes. Active recovery also shown a quick removal of lactate from circulation than to passive recovery.9


In conclusion, both warming ups and cooling downs are necessary and beneficial to the athletes. Therefore, as coaches we need to enforce these exercises and inculcate this attitude to our athletes, so that they could perform the proper routines in their future exercise programs.




1.      American Council on Exercise, 2003. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Ed.

2.      American College of Sports Medicine, 2007. ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer, 2nd Ed.

3.      Avery D. Faigenbaum, Mario Bellucci, Angelo Bernieri, Bart Bakker, and Karlyn Hoorens . Acute Effects of Different Warm-up Protocols on Fitness Performance in Children.

4.      Edward T. Howley, B. Don Franks, 2007. Fitness Professional's Handbook, 5th Ed. Human Kinetics.

5.      National Strength and Conditioning Association, 2008. Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle, Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd Ed.

6.      Peter Brukner and Karim Khan, 2005. Clinical Sports Medicine, 3rd Ed. pp 102. McGraw Hill.

7.      The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol. 19, issue 2 (May 2005) pp. 376-381.

8.      Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, 2005. Fitness Weight Training, 2 Ed. Human Kinetics.

9.      Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, 2005. Fitness Weight Training, 2 Ed;  pp 46. Human Kinetics.

10.   Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, 2005. Fitness Weight Training, 2 Ed;  pp 50. Human Kinetics