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Warming Up & Cooling Down

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 20 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Warming Up Cooling Down Stretching

Working out is important for sound health and fitness but many kids neglect important components of a safe workout – warming up and cooling down. Many kids (and even adults) think that a bit of quick stretching before and after rigorous exercise is sufficient, but stretching provides only part of the necessary preparation for a workout.

Why Warm Up?

Stretching and warming up before an intense workout help to prevent injuries. Often, kids fail to warm up properly only to find that their workouts are not as effective as they’d like. Warming up helps to prepare the body for full-out exertion, and shouldn’t be considered an optional activity. Warming up should be done before stretching, and stretching should proceed the actual workout. A good warm up raises both overall body temperature and muscle temperature, in addition to easing the heart and lungs into high gear, rather than simply going from sedentary to full-blast all at once. As kids warm up, oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to their muscles, preparing them for sustained activity. And for kids (of all ages) who have a bit of weight to lose, it’s good to remember that warming up makes it easier for the body to burn calories, helping to keep weight in check.

How to Warm Up Properly

Many kids naturally warm up without even realising that they are doing so. Often, warming up requires nothing more than performing the chosen exercise at a slow rate and increasing speed and exertion level as you get going. For instance, a runner can begin by walking, then walking more briskly, performing some stretches, and after a bit of time, picking up the pace until maximum speed is reached. The warm up period (before stretching) should last 5-10 minutes.

Safe and Effective Stretching

After the initial warm-up, kids should be encouraged to stretch their muscles before beginning the main portion of their work out. Stretching reduces injuries and can also increase flexibility and improve joint range of motion, setting kids up for a better overall workout. Obviously, kids need to stretch equally on both sides of their bodies, rather than focusing on just their pitching arm, for instance. Sometimes, when kids are working out for a specific sport, they tend to focus just on the primary muscles used in that sport, so they may need reminders to pay attention to their entire bodies, rather than just the muscle groups that they feel will come into play during the game.

Years ago, exercisers were taught to “bounce” as they stretched, but we now know that this practice can cause muscle damage, and with repeated misuse, can even result in the formation of scar tissue. Instead, stretches should be slow, deliberate, and sustained for 10-30 seconds. The movements should never be forced and kids should be taught to stop if they feel pain. A stretch should only go so far as to extend comfortably – discomfort is a sign that the stretch has been taken too far. Finally, parents and coaches should remind kids to breathe while they do their stretches. It may sound silly, but it is not uncommon for kids to tense up and hold their breath while stretching.

Cooling Down

After a workout, it is important that kids take the time to cool their bodies down, rather than going from full speed to sudden stops. In the example of the runner above, slowing the pace of the run until the heart and respiratory rates are back to normal, followed by some more simple stretches, would help avoid post-workout problems. Like the warm up, cooling down after a workout should take 5-10 minutes in order to bring the body back to its normal state. Other types of workouts may lend themselves well to different cool-down methods, but all cool downs should include some light aerobic activity and a bit of stretching. A proper cool down period helps to reduce or eliminate stiff, sore muscles and diminishes the chances of post-workout dizziness, which can occur when vigorous activity is suddenly stopped.

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