Warmup is important
A warm-up (NOT stretching alone) will prepare your body for the strenuous demands you’re about to place on it. Increasing blood circulation will raise the temperature of your deep muscles, preparing the ligaments and tendons.
But don’t stretch and call it a warm-up! That’s actually harmful. You’ll want to WARM your muscles first, and THEN stretch them.
With a warm-up, you’ll both reduce injury and improve your performance; cold muscles do not absorb shock or impact as well as warm ones do. So you’ll increase muscle efficiency and reduce the likelihood of pulling or (gulp!) tearing something. Also, having warmer muscles will improve your reaction time!
A proper warm-up won’t just help you in the game, it will help afterwards too; warm-ups increase blood flow and oxygen delivery, making you less likely to get out of breath. This also helps make the body more effective at eliminating unwanted waste product accumulation in the muscles (lactic acid!), which leads to soreness.
What’s a good warm-up time? It’s different for everyone, but about five to eight minutes is standard.
I admit I do a warm-up, but not always a cool down. I’ve since learned that a cool down after vigorous activity will keep the blood from pooling in the extremities (making one feel light-headed). A cool down also flushes away the lactic acid, making it less likely that muscles will hurt the next day. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or “muscle fever.”
A cool down should be about three to ten minutes, enough time for your heart rate to return to normal.
Do you do a warm-up and/or a cool down? Do you notice a difference when you leave off one or the other?