A few decades ago, it was not uncommon to warm-up with marching in place and a series of static stretches. Static stretches are now a thing of the past in warm-ups, as studies have shown stretching cold muscles is not the best way to ready the body for activity. Static stretching is best performed at the end of a workout when the muscles are warm and ligaments and joints are more elastic.
Why Do We Warm-up and Cool Down?
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 to 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.
Warm-ups should consist of dynamic moves that prepare the body for the specific activity to come. If you’re about to teach a step class, then warm up with squats, jumping jacks and some light walks up and off the step.
If you’re about to teach a heavy lifting class, go through some dynamic movements like inchworms with pushups, squats, and soft jump squats. Dynamic moves also elevate the heart rate before intense workouts, which readies the nervous system for ultimate productivity. It’s not a bad idea to start with your larger muscle groups and progress through smaller ones.
You can opt to freestyle your warm-up if you feel ready for it and you have a system that lets you know you’ve hit the major muscles that need attention, or, you can semi-choreograph one so that it’s similar every time. The benefit there is, right off the bat your class feels accomplished. As the members continue coming to class, they’ll eventually memorize your warm-up.
You can, of course, change the music to keep things fresh, but the familiarity of a choreographed warm-up allows the class to experience mastery at the beginning of the workout.
In many classes, there’s a learning curve that comes with new moves, heavier weights, or choreography, and sometimes it’s frustrating for students until they learn it. A familiar warm-up lets the class feel safe. We never want members to get bored or complacent, so watch for zoning out or little effort output, and shake things up by sticking in a new move occasionally.
Choreography doesn’t mean a whole series of 8-counts or dancing. You can simply opt to do 8-16 exercises from the head down or the feet up. The key is having some type of system so that you can easily check off the most important components. Those components will depend on the type of class you’re teaching that day.
Cool Downs are important (even though you’ll see members sneak out of class to avoid them) because sudden cessation in physical activity can cause blood pooling in your legs, and your blood pressure could drop causing dizziness.
Cooling down is also important after strength classes. Dynamic stretches such as walking lunges or yoga poses work great to bring the heart rate back to a calm state, ideally 100-120 beats per minute. Stretching also relaxes the tension from the workout.
Although stretching hasn’t been found to decrease injuries, it has been shown to decrease next-day soreness in hamstrings, quads and calves. Stretching also maintains circulation in key areas and expedites the healing process after muscles begin breaking down.
In an ideal world, each major muscle group would get a good stretch for at least 60 seconds, but in group classes, there’s not enough time. Shoot for 5-10 minutes whenever possible.
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