Best Practices: Warm up and cool down

Feb 03, 2015



The objective of warming up is to prepare your body for the upcoming activity. During this time your heart rate increases to encourage blood flow to the muscles needed for exercise. These muscles are now able to loosen up and be used effectively. There are two types of warm ups; a general warm up and a sport specific warm up. What you do to warm up is dependent upon the physical demands of your activity and your sport.

Did you know that before your activity you should…

  • Warm up muscles slowly by walking, jogging, and/or swimming for 10-15 minutes (try to choose exercises that encourage full range of motion for the hips).
  • Engage in dynamic type stretching (ballistic stretches for a short period of time) once the muscles are warm, making sure to stay controlled with these movements.
  • Include the following upper and lower body movements: 
    •  jumping jacks
    • arm circles
    • high knees
    • scissor kicks
    • carioca (slow then progress to faster)
  • Practice sport specific movements such as your swing, stroke or shot to facilitate muscle preparation – this helps you feel what your body is preparing to do. 
  • Your warm up should NOT include static type stretching (holding the stretch for a long period of time). This type of stretching does not prepare the muscle for activity because it stretches it too much to be used effectively.

NOTE: Ballistic stretching shortens muscles, therefore appropriate maintenance or improvement of flexibility must be scheduled as a separate training session depending on the needs of the athlete.


The objective of cooling down is to facilitate your body’s recovery from the activity. During this time your heart rate decreases towards normal and blood flow to the muscle slows down. The muscles are now repairing to facilitate growth so you only require a certain amount of blood. A cool down is usually general with some emphasis on key muscle groups used during the athletic activity.

Did you know that after your activity you should…

  • Keep your muscles active for 10-15 minutes using active rest such as slow walking, cycling etc. (many athletes ride the stationary bike post game/competition or practice).
  • Engage in static type stretching (holding stretches for a long period of time) while the muscles are still warm, maintaining good form throughout the stretch.
  • Include the following upper and lower body stretches:
    • chest stretch in doorway
    • triceps stretch overheard
    • quadriceps (front thigh) stretch standing up
    • hamstring (back thigh) stretch lying down
    • back stretch (twist) lying on side
  • Partner assisted stretching (also known as PNF – Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) is best done later to give the muscles and nervous system time to recover from activity.
  • Schedule and engage in separate stretching sessions (that include both static and PNF stretching) for later in the day, it is best to take the time for this after a hot shower because the muscles are loose, relaxed, and warmed up ready to improve flexibility!

NOTE: During high intensity training (high speed and/or power), maximum strength training, or plyometrics, muscle fibers will be damaged and need to repair during recovery. All these activities also tax your Central Nervous System (CNS). Depending on the intensity and the volume of these activities, recovery might take several hours for your muscles, and 48-72 hours for your CNS.

Always include an adequate warm up and cool down to your exercise routine. Give your body the chance to adapt to the next activity or rest period. Keep in mind the sport you are competing in to address specific areas during the warm up and cool down to encourage repair and growth. Remember the principle of starting general and working towards specific. Your body will appreciate you easing into it!

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