Aerobic exercise: How to warm up and cool down

Done correctly, warming up and cooling down may offer help in reducing your risk of injury and improving your athletic performance.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Before you jump on the elliptical machine or hit the running trails, consider doing a brief warm-up first. And, think about following your workout with a quick cool-down session. Sure, a warm-up and cool-down may add a few minutes to your exercise routine, but they also might reduce stress on your heart and other muscles.

Why warm up and cool down

Warm-ups and cool-downs generally involve doing your activity at a slower pace and reduced intensity.

Warming up helps prepare your body for aerobic activity. A warm-up gradually revs up your cardiovascular system by raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Warming up may also help reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury.

Cooling down after your workout allows for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Cooling down may be most important for competitive endurance athletes, such as marathoners, because it helps regulate blood flow. Cooling down doesn't appear to help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness after exercise, but more research is needed.

Although there's controversy about whether warming up and cooling down can prevent injuries, proper warm-ups and cool-downs pose little risk. Plus, they seem to give your heart and blood vessels a chance to ease into — and out of — an exercise session. So if you have the time, consider including a warm-up and cool-down in your workout routine.

How to warm up

Warm up right before you plan to start your workout. In general, warm up by focusing first on large muscle groups, such as your hamstrings. Then you can do exercises more specific to your sport or activity, if necessary.

Begin by doing the activity and movement patterns of your chosen exercise, but at a low, slow pace that gradually increases in speed and intensity. This is called a dynamic warm-up. A warm-up may produce mild sweating, but generally won't leave you fatigued.

Here are some examples of warm-up activities:

  • To warm up for a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for swimming, swim slowly at first and then pick up the tempo as you're able.
Aug. 10, 2016 See more In-depth