The Best Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routines to Get the Most Out of Your Workouts

Tyrone Brennand, a personal trainer and the author of Be The Fittest, found tangible gains from adding cool-downs to his routine. “One of the first ways I tried to get more mobile and flexible was by simply stretching out after the workout,” says Brennand. “During workouts, you push the muscles to the point of exhaustion, they tighten up. Cool-downs help with recovery.”

How long should you warm up and cool down for?

Any warm-up should be tailored to the workout, as heavier sessions need more prep. For our experts, however, a good rule of thumb is between five and 20 minutes. “Slowly ramp up your movements throughout this time, so that by the end of your preparation segment your workload should blend seamlessly into your main session,” advises Sorrell. “Ideally, [warm-ups and cool-downs] should always be a seamless part of the workout rather than separate tick boxes to check off throughout the day.”

Cool-downs are typically shorter, lasting between five and 10 minutes. “The main focus is to bring the heart rate back down to rest,” says Paris, “so if you have high blood pressure more time may be needed to bring you back down to normal levels.”

Best warm-up exercises

For cardio

Warming up for cardiovascular work is as simple as getting moving. While you’ll probably want to do some stretching of particular muscles, mimicking the movements you’ll employ during your workout is the most efficient way of preparing your body. “You see this a lot with soccer players or people that do track work,” says Brennand. “Before they go onto the field, you see them running up and down, trying to move the body in certain directions to warm up. If I’m doing a lot of running or circuits, I would do slow warm-ups that move the body in ways appropriate for running: high knees, heels to bum, jog a couple of steps then do a leg kick.”

Smith agrees with Brennand when it comes to knee lifts–and also suggests quickfire warm-up movements like star jumps, running on the spot or an incline treadmill walk, gradually increasing pace and incline.

For strength training

There’s a similar approach for strength training, with a focus on incorporating the movements you’ll be running through at full capacity later on. “Perform this movement pattern without weight first, then bring in some element of balance work to get your nervous system firing,” says Sorrell. “This could be a unilateral variation or a variation with some kind of artificial instability added in using resistance bands or a Bosu ball.”

When it comes to full-body and weight sessions, slow and steady is the warm-up key. Take everything down in tempo and weight: slow bodyweight squats, slow press-ups and shoulder rotations are some of Smith’s suggestions. “If the first exercise is an overhead squat, I would go into an overhead squat position and stay down,” explains Brennand, “opening up through my pelvis and hips, opening up the shoulders and maybe do a few reps with a light weight. Then I’d start the session, gradually building up to where I want to get to.”

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