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How to stretch, warm up and cool down

How to stretch, warm up and cool down
This article is all about how to stretch, warm up and cool down to ensure you are ready for your workouts, improve your performance and the results of your workout, prevent injuries, as well as aiding in returning your body to its pre-workout activity level.


I’m going to start this article off talking about stretching first. In the early days of the keep fit explosion of the 80’s, stretching was almost as much a part of working out as the workouts themselves. In more recent times however the type of stretching you do has become much more controversial and seemingly complicated.

Static stretching

This is where you hold a muscle in a stretched position for a number of seconds. I’ll come straight out with it, I’m not a big fan of most static stretching routines I’ve seen out there as a pre-workout warm-up routine. They are counter-productive as a warm-up to a weight training routine and often not the best for other types of exercise routines. These stretches actually relax your muscles and then you temporarily lose strength, force production and performance in the muscle.

Extreme static stretching, where a stretch is held for more than 15 seconds and pushes your body past its natural limit of stretch places stress on your joints and ligaments. I know this as I used to do a lot of static stretching and all I seemed to get was more aches and pains from doing them. As soon as I stopped doing static stretches, my strains, aches and pains went away.

The issue with this type of stretching is once applied, your muscles natural reaction to being stretched is to protect itself and it will instead want to retract and contract to prevent injury to itself (known as myotatic reflex).

While static stretching can make you more flexible, its negative effects as described above for a pre-warm-up routine, just isn’t worth it in my opinion.

So what type of static stretching do you recommend? If you are looking to do any static stretching then I would only really do it post workout. I’d take the muscle you have just worked and do repetitive stretches with minimal force. i.e. you are going to literally hold a stretch with minimal resistance for just 2-3 seconds and slowly and completely release the stretch and repeat for up to 10 times. The stretch should be allowed by your body, without force.

The only other time would be as part of a plan to remedy any tight muscles that are effecting you posture.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching includes things like no-stop lunges, knee ups, chest stretch (bring arms in front of and across your chest then right back again and repeat in a continuous motion), arms swings, leg swings, high kicks, joint rotations using full range of motion etc. This is by far a much better way to get your stretches in, as many of the stretches use natural movements and range of motion. You do not hold the muscle in the stretch position. Dynamic stretching excites your body’s systems and gets the body prepared for further movement, while also warming up your joints. I highly recommend you do dynamic stretching before your workouts. Do them for about 5 minutes before your workout to help prepare your body and prevent injuries.


Interesting enough massages can have great benefits in stretching a muscle without elongating or straining the tendons or ligaments. And although I don’t unfortunately get around to doing this, it may be worth looking into deep tissue massage, myofascial therapy/release or even trigger point therapy if you want or have additional stretching requirements.


I want to add in a little about flexibility here, as it is very often over looked. Much of our flexibility problems occur due to bad posture. Let me make myself more clear. Those little niggles in the neck, back, legs etc can often be attributed to our modern living and working conditions. Seated at a desk all day, sitting in front of the computer, TV or games console and driving our cars around. We are designed to walk and work most of the day, moving our bodies, not be in the seated position. These conditions can lead to muscular imbalance, alignment issues, that hinder our flexibility and general health.

If you are looking to increase your flexibility, getting up and walking around and concentrating on your posture would be a great place to start. For working out, I’d add dynamic stretching to your routine. You also get a good amount of stretching on most exercises. Some exercises can also help develop functional flexibility and allow a joint to move through its natural full range of motion.

Bottom line is you just need to be flexible enough to do your daily activities or sport that you do, you don’t need to overdo it.

Warm ups

This is an important part of your workout. It’s very easy to skip this, but injuries from improper warm ups can occur, especially as you get older. An injury when you are older can also take a long time to heal and set you right back.

Warm ups for me start with a full body warm up. You need to spend at least 5 minutes warming up before hitting the weights by doing some of the following:

  • Gentle jog on the spot or on a treadmill
  • Shadow boxing
  • Press ups
  • Body weight squats
  • Lunges (front and/or side)
  • Reverse lunges
  • Jumping jacks
  • Hip circles
  • Skipping
  • Shoulder rotations/rolls
  • Arm swings/circles
  • Leg swings/kicks
  • Jumping jacks
  • Dynamic stretches

A good warm up routine should increase your core body temperature, get the blood moving around your body, get fluid moving around the joints and prepare the neural pathways, but not be too exhaustive to be detrimental to your workout.

If you really hate doing this type of warm up and you are planning on lifting heavy weights and to avoid injury and prepare your muscles, there are several other ways you can warm up your muscles before you get into your working sets. Such as doing a few sets of a much lighter weight of a multi-joint exercise for the muscle you are about to work.  These should be non exhaustive sets as you don’t want to tire the muscle out, you just want to feel the muscle working and allow you to practise your technique for the exercise to be done. (more on this in the reps and sets article).


You can do your entire planned number of sets using ramp up sets. This method starts you off by doing your first set lighter and with less weight and then gradually increasing the weight and reducing the reps. Also your first set should be the set that you move the weight the quickest, while the last set you move is the slowest.

Heavy weights can take a toll on your joints and so warming them up before going heavy allows the fluid between your joints to lubricate those joints before being hit hard and heavy.

Cool down

Another area that most people skip, is any form of cooling down. Cooling down can prevent dizziness from a sudden stop of intense exercising, allowing a gradual return to a much slower heart rate. It can also help flush the system of pooled blood in the area you have worked and also allow the body to recover quicker post workout. If you have been doing HIIT, then 5-10 minutes of steady state activity will help gradually bring your temperature down.

If you have been doing resistance training and looking to build muscle, you probably won’t want to be doing any cardio post workout, so a good 5 minutes of stretching may be in order. This can also be done by those who have done cardio too.

This is also the only time I’d suggest doing any static stretching in the form of the one mentioned above.

If you do feel dizzy after working out to the point that you feel you will pass out, then it would be best to lay down. If you can, lay flat or even elevate your feet/legs. Lay still and concentrate on your breathing. Breath in deep and  breath out slowly (slower while breathing out). Concentrate of your heart beat slowing down as you breath out. Get someone to also switch off any lights or close the curtains, as this can hurt your eyes making any dizziness worse. Once your heart rate has slowed down, you can slowly and gradually begin to sit up. If you are happy to now get up do so slowly and get yourself a drink of water if you haven’t already got one.


While most people just want to get their workouts over and done with, a good warm up and cool down routine can have many benefits and shouldn’t be over looked.