The Purpose of Warming Up & Cooling Down

Whether your exercise of choice is running, playing sports, swimming, taking a group fitness class, or strength training…. there are two components every fitness routine should include: warm-ups and cool-downs.   They are key components of your fitness routine for a variety of reasons.   

Start With a Warm-Up:
There are many benefits of a warm-up.  Warm-ups prepare the body for the more intense demands to come and begins the slow ascendance of the heart rate. Additionally, warming up will increase blood circulation to the muscles, elevate core temperature and speed up nerve impulses. Warming up also helps increase your range of motion by stimulating fluids to lubricates the joints.  

A warm-up should be anywhere between 7-10 minutes in length,  and be a lighter version of the activity/movements you are about to perform.  It should start with moving the larger muscle groups first and then continuing to the smaller muscle groups. While warming up, the instructor can get a feel for the class as well to determine if there are any special needs and/or the level of their class.  Pregnant women should always spend a little more time on their warm-up.  A proper warm-up may cause you to feel sweaty, but should not leave you feeling fatigued.

Warm-Up Examples:
If you’re planning to take a brisk walk, warm-up your muscles with a slow five to 10-minute walk. Going for a run? Walk briskly for 5-10 minutes before you take off. Slow, leisurely lap swimming or water walking is a great way to warm up before your water aerobics. Five to ten minutes of light aerobic activity (walking, stationary bike, elliptical) before strength training is a great start. Continue by mimicking the movements you will make during the strength-training workout to ensure those upper body muscles will be equally ready for exercise.

Finish With a Cool Down:
The cool-down is equally important and a great way to wrap up a workout.  The cool-down allows the body to return to its normal state.  We continue to move while slowly decreasing the intensity of the workout. As our body transitions from working hard to resting through this lighter form of exercise, our heart rate will begin to lower to its normal beats per minute.  Cool-downs should be 3-5 minutes in length followed by stretching.    This will help the breathing and heart rate to return to normal and can avoid dizziness.  A good cool-down will also help to prevent muscle soreness by removing lactic acid from the muscles.  

Cool-Down Examples:
A cool down should address the entire body rather than just specific muscles. There are a variety of ways to cool down post-workout, including gentle stretches, breathing exercises based on yoga or tai chi, or simply taking a walk for 5-10 minutes.

In Summary:
While warm-ups and cool-downs will add some extra minutes to your exercise routine, regular practice of these will help reduce the risk of muscle strain and injury. It is essential to prevent injuries and get the most out of your fitness routine!

Written by: Sharon Brady, Certified Personal Trainer at the South County Family YMCA


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