Warming Up vs Cooling Down: Things To Know

By Matthew Buckley for Athletico Physical Therapy

warming up vs cooling down

Picture this – you walk into your local gym after carving out time in your day to  work out.. You come prepared with your headphones in, new favorite song turned up, and a game plan full of all the exercises you’re going to accomplish that day. You scan the gym and see your favorite machine with no one else on it calling your name. You scurry to it, get settled in, and just as you’re about to start you think to yourself, “I probably should warm up, shouldn’t I?”

We’ve all been here. Most people at one time or another have followed some sort of workout plan in hopes of becoming more physically fit, and yet so often these programs neglect any sort of warm up or cool down. All too often people end up in physical therapy with workout related injuries, many of which can be attributed to poor warm ups/cool downs. In fact, in 2012 roughly 500,000 people were injured while exercising or using exercise equipment. Gym-goers are not alone. A review of the incidence of running injuries shows that the average recreational runner has anywhere from a 37 to 56 percent chance of injuring themselves.


With a proper warm up and cool down prior to activity of any sort, these rates of injury can be decreased and the ever-dreaded soreness after exercise can be lessened.. A proper warm up is very different than a proper cool down, so it is important to understand what should be incorporated into each of these. Here are some tips to guide a safe, effective warm up, cool down and overall workout.


The Warm Up

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching is  not the best way to get ready for a workout. Static stretching helps to lengthen and relax muscles, which while important (see below), is not the most effective way to get your body ready for physical exertion. Instead, what is called a dynamic warm up is best for pre-exercise. These are movements designed to increase the mobility of muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the areas of the body you’ll be using for exercise, as well as increase the mobility of the joints themselves.

These movements help prime your body for more strenuous physical exertion, begin to get your heart rate up in preparation for activity, and increase blood flow to the areas to supply muscles and tendons with nutrients during the workout. All this effectively decreases the chances of causing injury to a muscle or joint that creates force to perform any type of workout movement. A few examples of these movements include:

  • Body weight squats
  • Forward and backward lunges
  • Sidestepping in a slight squat position with a band around your knees
  • Jumping jacks
  • High Knees
  • Jogging Butt Kickers
  • Forward and side planks

The Cool Down

Following a workout, muscles have exerted force for an amount of time and have the tendency to get tight. The cool down is essential to restore muscles to their proper flexibility to prevent tightness, muscle imbalances and decrease the risk of overuse injuries. Stretching is also a great way to gradually decrease your heart rate after a workout and can help decrease the amount of soreness felt later that day/the next day following exercise. A stretch should be performed for any muscle or muscle groups that were used during that workout. Stretches should be held for 30 seconds and should NOT be to the point of pain.

The use of foam rollers for warming up and cooling down has gotten much more popular over recent years, and for good reason. Using a foam roller can be beneficial for both warming up and cooling down, as well as in between workouts. The pressure of the roller may be a bit uncomfortable at the time, but no sharp pain should be felt. Foam roll use helps to mobilize the tissue making movement easier afterward and will also help work out any soreness that is felt through the muscles.

The proper use of warming up and cooling down has a variety of benefits in combination with a safe and effective workout routine of any kind. Using these methods will help improve workout function, decrease risk of injury while working out and improve recovery from workout to workout. As always, consult your physician and/or physical therapist with any pain you may be experiencing with activity.

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5 Ways to Maximize Triathlon Performance

5 ways to maximize triathlon performance

By Ryan Domeyer PT, DPT, CMPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

Participation in triathlons in the United States is at an all-time high according to USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in the United States. The group’s membership has swelled from around 100,000 in 1998 to 550,446 in 2013.1 What’s more, estimates from the Sports and Fitness Industry Associated show there were 2,498,000 road triathletes  in the United States in 2016.2

With the number of participants in triathlon races increasing, it is important to have a training plan in order to prevent injury and maximize performance on race day. There are numerous training plans and philosophies available to follow, but many are missing valuable components that can improve performance and decrease the risk of injury. Read below for five things to include in your training program in order to maximize triathlon performance.

1. Bicycle Fitting

Bicycles should be comfortable and fitted into a position that maximizes force output. There are multiple variables including saddle height, stem height and handlebar height that should be taken into consideration. Small changes in position on the bicycle can lead to large changes in muscle efficiency, which can help athletes maximize speed with less energy. For help with bike set up, athletes can seek out assistance from a local bicycle store or certified triathlon coach.

2. Running Form

Although most triathlon plans will include weekly running, few address proper form and how to run more efficiently to decrease force applied to the joints. Research shows that increasing cadence, or the number of steps taken, can decrease loading on the foot, knee and hip – which may lead to less overuse injuries.3  An easy way to track cadence is by using a metronome smartphone app. These apps can help to determine current steps per minute, and athletes can use this as a benchmark to start increasing their steps in 5 percent increments up to 170-190 steps per minute.

Another way to improve running form is by using Video Gait Analysis (VGA). This service can be used to analyze running under slow motion in order to identify areas of improvement that can help to prevent injuries and maximize performance. Physical therapists at Athletico Physical therapy are qualified to perform VGA and work with athletes to create plans for more efficient running through training and on race day.

3. Joint Mobility

Swimming, bicycling and running all utilize joints differently. Most training plans will outline the importance of stretching, but few people follow those recommendations. An easy way to prepare your joints for training is by utilizing a dynamic warm up to prepare the body for training. Learn more about the difference between stretching and a dynamic warm up by reading Athletico’s “Stretching Vs. Warming Up: What’s the Difference?

4. Strength Training

A  deficit in many triathlon training programs is the absence of strength training. Most programs include swimming, biking and running, but end up omitting ways to maintain or improve strength. The goal should not be to increase muscle size but rather to maintain strength to allow for maximum performance while training. Including bodyweight squats, lunges, planks and gluteal muscle strength is a great way to build a resilient body to prevent injuries while training.

5. Body Awareness

Triathlon training requires a large commitment in time and physical capacity. Being aware of when aches and pains are becoming injuries is vital to maximizing performance. Understanding of when to recover and when to push through aches is important to maximizing performance on race day. Physical therapists at Athletico are experts in musculoskeletal injuries and are available for complimentary injury screens to determine the best plan to prevent/treat injuries and maximize overall performance.

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5 Tips for the Aging Athlete

By Leython Williams, PT, DPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

  • Research shows that as much as 50 percent of the declines in health due to aging are related to inactivity. 
  • Successful aging has been linked to genetics and a healthy lifestyle that consists of proper nutrition and exercise, but what about the aging athlete who isn’t a stranger to activity?
  • What are some key considerations for seniors as their activity levels remain high, but their body’s physiologic response changes with age?

As baby boomers become more active and healthy living becomes a bit trendier, I’ve been receiving a lot of these questions from patients who endeavor to stay active as they refuse to let their age slow them down. Thus, I’ve put together some tips to help us, aging athletes, age successfully!

1. Accept it.

Whether athletic or not, the processes of aging are the same in all of us. Even with the healthiest lifestyle, we all undergo predictable changes in our body systems that include disease states and compromises in our performance. Our bodies are sure to change; accepting this inevitability will only help us adapt and adjust to these changes, while decreasing the likelihood for injury and/or impairment. Here are a few basic systemic changes to consider as “Father Time” knocks at each of our doors:

  • Nervous System
    • Decreased Sensation
    • Decreased Balance
  • Respiratory System
    • Decreased Vital Capacity/Breathing Capacity of Lungs: Maximum amount of air a person can exhale after maximum inhalation
  • Cardiovascular System
    • Decreased Maximum Heart Rate (decreases by 5-10 beats per decade)
    • Slower return to resting HR after and during exercise
  • Musculoskeletal System
    • Decreased Bone Strength
    • Decreased Muscular Strength
    • Decreased Flexibility
  • Vision
    • Farsightedness
    • Relates to Balance/Coordination
  • Hearing Loss

2. Turn it up.

Any given sport or workout has three elements that can be manipulated in one’s fitness regimen to obtain the desired results: frequency, duration and intensity. Intensity is the operative word here – as we get older, the tendency is to trade in intensity for duration. However, as athletes, we need to do the very opposite in order to perform at a high level. Avoid the long, slow distances and incorporate exercises with an emphasis on muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and power. Higher intensities over a shorter duration, 2-3 times a week will help to stimulate testosterone release, which helps maintain muscle mass.

3. Lift it up.

Putting the muscles and bones under stress through lifting weights and even performing body-weight resisted exercises (such as push-ups, squats and lunges) help to promote bone and muscle health. This is essential in an effort to negate the decrease in bone density that comes with aging. Rebuilding bone and gaining muscle is still a possibility no matter what age we are!

4. Recover.

Sleep and nutrition are directly linked to an athlete’s ability to recover from strenuous activity. The days of being able to perform at a high level on little sleep and/or a bad diet become fewer and fewer as we get older.

Sleep is essential because it is our body’s way of regenerating from the breakdown caused by the increased intensity of our exercise regimens (see above). Adequate sleep is also linked to increased testosterone levels, which increases muscle and bone mass in men and women.

Nutrition is also integral in an aging athlete’s recovery and performance; food is fuel. Macronutrients and micronutrients are twin concerns as they relate to an athlete’s nutrition. It is crucial that macronutrients, such as carbohydrates and proteins, are replenished after competition or exercise. Carbohydrates are considered to be the athlete’s “Master Fuel” as they provide energy to 50 percent of any moderate to rigorous endurance workout. Proteins are essential as they are the building blocks of muscle and bone, as well as aide in the build and repair of tissues after breakdown. Micronutrients, in vitamins and minerals, are essential as they facilitate energy production and utilization from carbohydrate, fat and protein; transport oxygen and carbon dioxide; and regulate fluid balance.

5. Hydrate.

Water is arguably the most essential nutrient in the human diet. H2O regulates our temperature and maintains several bodily functions such as food digestion, absorption of its nutrients and excretion of waste. Athletes of all ages need to be sure to hydrate before, during and after moderate to rigorous activity. Exercise, sports and environmental conditions can all impact fluid loss, which refers to expending more fluids than we take in. Research shows that one percent of fluid loss makes the heart beat 3-5 times greater per minute, which is especially significant in the aging population that will naturally have certain cardiac considerations. It is not uncommon to lose a sense of thirst as we get older and certain medications may make it even more important to drink water. Thus hydration must be a concentrated effort.

Get in the Game

All in all, it is an unavoidable fact that the aging process causes a gradual decline in a person’s ability to adapt and adjust to their environment. While exercise and athletic activity certainly slows down this decline, it is imperative that aging athletes understand that they are not exempt to these bodily changes simply because they are active. Accepting this fact of life is not conceding defeat by any means, but it assists in developing and executing the game plan to aging successfully! Get in the game!

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Understanding the 3 Phases of Muscle Healing

By Brian Whittington | Athletico Physical Therapy

Muscle mass accounts for 40-45 percent of total body weight, which makes it no surprise that muscle injuries can account for anywhere between 10-55 percent of all sustained sports injuries. With such a prevalence of muscle-related injuries, it’s important to understand how muscles heal, which includes three phases: Destruction, Repair and Remodeling.

Destruction: This phase starts when injury occurs, most likely by a contusion or strain. Ninety percent of all muscular sports injuries occur via these two mechanisms. A contusion is a direct force to the muscle that causes injury, while a strain occurs when the muscle is subjected to excessive forces that lead to failure of the muscle fibers. During either type of injury, muscle fibers and small blood vessels tear, filling the injured area with blood. Contained within that blood are inflammatory cells that infiltrate the newly injured area. Amazingly, muscle tissue has a mechanism that “seals off” the injured area to make sure the destruction and subsequent repair phases only occur at the injured site. This process occurs throughout the first few days after injury.

Treatment Implications: During this phase, immobilization with braces, splints, crutches or even simple taping techniques can be applied. Brief immobilization for 3-7 days can assist with minimizing pain and decreasing the effects of the destruction phase to only injured tissue. Application of RICE (Rest, ice, compression, elevation) can also decrease the detrimental effects of the destruction phase.

Repair: During this important phase, a cell called a macrophage is introduced into the injured site. A macrophage “eats” and “cleans away” the dead tissue and dry blood caused by the injury. Once this is complete, another cell – called a satellite cell – is released into the injured area. Satellite cells transform into myoblast cells, which group together to create new muscle fibers. However, unlike a broken bone that is repaired by regenerating only new bone, an injured muscle is not replaced with only new muscle fibers. Another cell, called a fibroblast, also produces connective tissue at the injured site. It is a combination of connective tissue and muscle fibers that repair the injured muscle. In addition, new blood vessels and nerves generate during this phase. This repair phase commonly is peaking about two weeks after injury.

Treatment Implications:  Transitioning from immobilization to early mobilization will occur at this time. Mobilization of the muscle can encourage faster regrowth of blood vessels and muscle fibers, as well as decrease scar formation and increase tensile strength of the muscle fibers. The expertise of physical therapists is important during this phase, as they can help select the appropriate intensity of exercises. Typically gentle exercises called isometrics, in which you contract the muscle but don’t allow movement of a joint or limb, will be implemented first.  Progression to isotonic exercises in which you strengthen the muscle through its full range of motion occurs next. This, in combination with gentle stretching, is standard during the repair phase.  

Remodeling: This stage can have a considerable overlap with the repair phase. During remodeling, the regenerating muscle fibers and connective tissue continue to mature and are being oriented into the final scar tissue. This stage is important for the manner in which the scar tissue is being oriented.  Typically, muscle issue is oriented in straight lines. When the tissue repairs itself, the mixture of new muscle fibers and connective tissue is randomly oriented. Treatment during this phase can assist the new tissue to regenerate into parallel lines, like a pile of logs, instead of one big clump, like a ball of yarn.

Treatment implications:  Manual therapy along with specialized treatment techniques such as Graston and ASTYM can help facilitate the orientation of this new scar tissue as well as prevent restrictions in the scar tissue. This is important for decreasing the likelihood of reinjuring the tissue. Returning to regular functional activity by normalizing mechanics, regaining full strength through isokinetic exercises, and sports-specific training can occur during this time.

ATH300x250Physical Therapists Can Help

When treating patients with musculoskeletal injuries, physical therapists are not only selecting exercises based on the deficits that are observed during the patient’s evaluation, but also identifying and respecting the current phase of healing. When combining these two approaches, patients can return to full activity.  Taking into account the stage of healing along with information obtained from the evaluation, allows the therapist to formulate an individualized treatment plan for optimal healing.

Schedule an appointment at an Athletico near you today!