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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The Athlete’s Kitchen: Taking Your Diet to the Next Level

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Some athletes are still on the “see-food diet.” They see food and they eat it. Others are a bit more mindful about how they nourish their bodies; they put thought into selecting high-quality foods that invest in good health, quick healing and top performance. They commonly report they have taken their diets to the next level. For some disciplined and dedicated athletes, the next level is a perfect diet with no sugar, no processed foods, no desserts and no “fun foods.”

While aspiring to eat quality foods is certainly a step in the right direction, eating too healthfully can sometimes create problems if the food policy becomes a bit too zealous. Is birthday cake really a bad-for-you food? (I don’t think so.) Is gorging on vegetables really best for your body? (Not if your hands acquire an orange tinge from having eaten too many carrots, or if you experience recurrent diarrhea due to an excessively high-fiber diet.)

Perhaps a better goal than a perfect diet is an excellent diet. An excellent diet might be more balanced, enjoyable and sustainable. Even birthday cake with refined sugar and saturated fat can fit into an excellent diet. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines allow for the inclusion of small amounts of so-called “imperfect” foods in your food plan:

Ten percent of calories can come from refined sugar. That’s about 250 to 350 calories (60 to 90 grams) of sugar (carbohydrate) for most female and male athletes, respectively. This sugar fuels your muscles. Sports drinks and gels count as refined sugar.

Ten percent of calories can come from saturated fat that can clog arteries and is associated with heart disease. For an athlete who requires about 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day, consuming 250 to 350 calories (about 30 to 40 grams) of saturated fat per day, if desired, can fit within the saturated fat budget. This means, from time to time, you can enjoy without guilt some “bad foods” such as bacon and chips. One slice of bacon has about one gram saturated fat; a small bag of potato chips, about three grams.


Certainly there are healthier foods to eat than bacon and chips, but you want to look at your whole day’s food intake- not just a single item- to determine the overall quality of your sports diet. If 85 percent to 95 percent of your food choices are high quality, a little bacon or a few chips will not ruin your health forever.


Some athletes deal with “unhealthy” foods by setting aside one day a week to be their cheat day. This well-intentioned plan can easily backfire. Most people don’t overeat/splurge until they have first been denied or deprived of a favorite food. Hence, when the perfect diet starts on Monday, people can do a heck of a lot of “last chance” eating the days before starting their restrictive food plan.

Rather than a Sunday splurge, let’s say on bacon, you might want to enjoy just a few slices of bacon throughout the week. This can curb cravings and dissipate the urge to splurge on Sundays. There can be a “diet portion” of any food.

Going to the next level

For athletes who want to take their diets to the next level with a sustainable plan, I offer these suggestions:

-Evenly distribute your calories throughout the day. Most active women need about 2,400-2,800 calories a day; active men may need 2,800-3,600 calories a day. This number varies according to how much you weigh, how fidgety you are, and how much you exercise. That’s why meeting with a professional sports dietitian can help you determine a reliable estimate. To find a local sports dietitian, use the referral network at http://www.SCANdpg.org.

-Most “bad” food decisions happen at night, after your body has been underfueled during the day. If you are “starving” before dinner, add a second lunch to curb your evening (over)eating. You will easily save yourself from a lot of junk food at night. Trust me.

-If your body requires 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day, this divides into 4 food buckets with ~600-700 calories every four hours. For example: 7:00 a.m., breakfast; 11:00, early lunch; 3:00 p.m., later lunch; and 7:00, dinner. Adjust the times to suit your schedule and divide the calories, if desired, into smaller snacks within that four-hour window.

-Your breakfast food bucket should be the same size as your dinner bucket; this likely means you’ll be eating a smaller dinner and a bigger breakfast. If you train in the morning, you may want to eat part of your breakfast calories before you exercise and the rest afterwards.

-Include in each food bucket at least three of these four types of foods:
1. Grain-based foods (about 150-250 calories/bucket), to fuel your muscles. Easy whole grains: whole wheat bread, oatmeal, baked corn chips
2. Protein-based foods (about 250 calories/bucket), to build and repair your muscles. Easy ready-made options include rotisserie chicken, deli turkey, hummus, tuna pouches, tofu, hard-boiled eggs and nuts.
3. Fruits and veggies (about 100-200 calories/bucket) for vitamins and minerals. Choose a variety of colorful fruits: strawberries, cherries, oranges, peaches, bananas, and blueberries. Also choose colorful veggies: dark green broccoli, peppers, spinach; orange carrots, sweet potato; red tomato, etc.
4. Dairy/calcium-rich foods (about 100 calories/bucket) for bones and maintaining low blood pressure: Lowfat (soy) milk, (Greek) yogurt, cheeseÑbut please not rice or almond milk. They are equivalent to juice with very little protein or nutritional merit.

By filling up on quality foods at breakfast, lunch #1, and lunch #2, you will crave less “junk food” at night and may not even miss it. Your diet will easily rise to the next level, no sweat.

Recovery Modalities for Training

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In the search to maximize training and improvement performance, many are now looking at what is done during recovery as a component of the entire training/performance routine. Many recovery modalities have been touted as the answer to post-exercise fatigue and reduced performance. There are three potential benefits that may be considered: immediate recovery (right after the activity), short-term (between sets) and recovery between training bouts. We will focus on training recovery, as this is the most common question from athletes and those participating in recreational competition. Some of the modalities that have been used include vibration, whole body immersion (usually cold water or contrast; cold then warm, alternating), compression garments, massage, electrical stimulation, heat or stretching or pharmacologic measures, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).

In general, most of these modalities provide little, if any, benefit to recovery. Whole body cryotherapy (cooling) reduced strength loss at one hour post activity, with less pain than a passive recovery group, but by 24 hours there was no difference in strength or pain between recovery modes. Similarly, another study noted that athletes said their legs felt “lighter” at 24 hours when having used active recovery and cold immersion, but physical tests between groups showed no difference. Alternating cold and warm water immersion (contrast water therapy) showed the greatest decreases in soreness, but, as with the others, there were no differences in specific components, such as strength or range of motion.

Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is being marketed for pain reduction, and while advertisements may identify other benefits, the research suggests otherwise. E-stim does not seem to aid “restoration” of traits that are usually altered following intense activity, such as strength or fatigue. Cooling was shown to have a positive effect on aerobic activity. However, it has been noted that the results are variable and partially dependent upon the length of cooling and individual responses to the modality. While the prolonged use of NSAIDs is not recommended due to the potential for gastric issues, most of the recovery modalities do not have major negative effects when used appropriately.


Important components of recovery should include some relative rest, proper diet and rehydration. Diet and rehydration are especially necessary for longer activities and those in which the athlete is subject to high temperatures. In such cases, diet and hydration may help to restore energy resources to the muscle as well as restoration of electrolytes.


The evidence for physical benefits from recovery modalities is limited. However, many of the modalities appear to be useful for reduction of pain/muscle soreness. The noted reductions in pain/soreness may be temporary, but some have noted that this effect may allow an athlete to complete subsequent training, even if at a lower intensity. Furthermore, the psychological effect of any technique may be enough to promote improved performance or the ability to train at a desired level following previous intense bouts of training. Thus, the final decision regarding the use of a recovery modality will be based on your personal preference and the desired outcome. If pain/soreness reduction is important, then you may want to try a recovery modality. If the ability to do harder workouts in succession is the goal, a recovery modality will probably not help.

The Growth of Platform Tennis; Review of the NBA Research Committee

Episode 17.05 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One (01:20): Dr. Jeremy Alland from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush talks about the definition and growth of Platform Tennis, unusually high rate of related injuries and the importance of warming up prior to play. Dr. Alland graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago, IL, where he was awarded the prestigious William H. Harrison, PhD Award for selfless leadership, aspiration and collaboration. He went on to complete a Family Medicine residency at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, where he served as Chief Resident and was peer-selected as the best resident teacher.

ABC7’s Judy Hsu reports on the growing popularity of platform tennis, which is played outdoors in the winter. Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush recently completed the first-ever national survey of ‘paddle tennis’ players who reported that two-thirds had sustained an injury due to the sport. Of those, one half had sustained more than one injury. Dr. Jeremy Alland, sports  medicine physician, talks about the risk of the sport and platform tennis players talk about what keeps them coming back.

Segment Two (13:50): Dr. Cole as Chairman of the NBA Research Committee andImage result for nba injuries Steve Kashul discuss the work of the committee in tracking and sharing data on performance and injuries in the NBA; how this data is used to minimize future injuries and maximize the performance of valuable professional players.

The initiative is in partnership with General Electric Healthcare. It is spearheaded by a 20-person strategic advisory board comprising team physicians and clinical researchers from various fields, including orthopedics, sports medicine, radiology and epidemiology.

 “NBA players are among the best athletes in the world, and their well-being is the league’s highest priority,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement released to ESPN.com. “Our support for medical research through our partnership with GE Healthcare will help us improve the long-term health and wellness of NBA players. We are also excited that this research collaboration will provide important insights to athletes at all levels.”