Warm-up and cool-down exercises

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girl runner stretching

​​Your body needs a few minutes to prepare for the stretching and muscle contractions that happen during more vigorous activity. A warm-up before you begin your exercise:

  • helps increase your heart rate gradually
  • increases the flow of blood to the muscles to prepare them for the activity
  • helps protect you from injury
  • prepares you mentally for the vigorous activity.

You should build warm-up and cool-down activities into your activity routine.

Warm-up options

The ideal warm-up will depend on the activity, but it should use the muscle groups and movements that you will use during the activity.

The best type of warm-up is dynamic. This means taking a muscle through a range of motion at a steady pace instead of a holding a static stretch (a stretch in one position) for a longer period of time. So, for example, if you plan to do some squats with weights, it is better to warm-up by doing squats without any weights than to simply stand in one place and stretch your legs.

Dynamic warm-ups should be repeated 10 to 15 times for each major muscle group that you are using in the activity. The warm-up should start at a low level (so you do not tire your muscles too quickly) and gradually build up to the level of intensity required for the main part of the activity.

Cool-down options

When your physical activity is done, your body needs a few minutes to transition back to a more restful state. A cool-down allows your heart rate and breathing to return to resting levels gradually. The gradual change in blood flow from the large muscles also reduces the chance that you will feel faint or dizzy after exercise.

Too often, people neglect the cool-down at the end of a session, but it is just as important as the warm-up and the activity itself. A cool-down is especially important after vigorous exercise because the body needs time to slow down. The cool-down should occur immediately after training activities and should last five to 10 minutes.

Cool-down activities can be the same sort of exercise as the warm-up at a low intensity but should also include some static stretching. Static stretching involves holding a muscle in a stretched position for at least 30 to 60 seconds. It is important for maintaining flexibility and preventing injuries from overusing a muscle group. Aim to do two or three cool-down stretches for each major muscle group you use in the activity.

Last updated: May 2nd 2016