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The importance of a warm up and cool down in sport


Posted by Neil B under Running, Cycling, Swimming, Football (Soccer), Rugby Union on 20 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

The role of the warm up and cool down in physical activity is an often over-looked aspect of performance sport. The influence both can have over maximising athlete performance mean that the warm up and cool down are a critical part of any athletes' training and preparation schedule. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

As the image says, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail. There is no excuse for not taking part in an effective warm up before exercise and cool down after exercise. The benefits of an effective warm up are proven by scientific research and should be incorporated into all exercise, whether for team sport or individual exercise. 

Incorporating aerobic exercise into your warm up routine is crucial in ensuring you are adequately prepared for performance. Aerobic activity in your warm up is crucial for a number of reasons. It warms up your core muscle and body temperatures. This allows your muscles to contract more explosively and powerfully, while also improving the efficiency of oxygenated blood transfer around the body. It also improves your flexibility, kicks off some key hormonal reactions within your body and puts you in the correct mental mind frame for the activity ahead.

Check out this more detailed guide into the benefits of an aerobic warm up 

Warm up jogThe aerobic aspect of your warm up should incorporate similar movements to those which you are about to perform at full intensity. It should mimic the movements that will be required of you, but at a lower intensity. For exercise requiring running, such as endurance running, football, hockey etc., a light jog is a good place to start. For more specific exercises such as weight lifting, an effective warm up can be to replicate the weightlifting actions you will be using, but with significantly lighter weights, or none at all. The intention is to start working your muscles and warm them up, not to actually train them. That comes once you are successfully warmed up. The main focus should be on ensuring the major muscle groups that you will be using are sufficiently warmed up.

While the aerobic jog/run/cycle that should be undertaken at the start of you warm up begins to Dynamic Stretchesreplicate the movements your muscles will make during exercise, once the muscles have been sufficiently heated up, more sport specific activities should be incorporated. Recently, the use of dynamic stretches in the warm up have been advocated strongly. These allow you to mimic movements that you will be undertaking in performance, maintain your body's increased temperature and continue your mental preparation. Many people have argued that dynamic stretches could replace static stretches all together in the warm up. However, static stretches still have their merits in the warm up, and as such should be performed as well as dynamic stretches, so as to give you as complete a warm up as possible.

Here is our guide to why dynamic stretches are such a good addition to your warm up routine

Once you've got a full understanding of the benefits of dynamic stretches, take a look at this guide on what dynamic stretches to incorporate into your warm up.

Cool downWhile most people are aware of the need for a warm up, even if they don't perform it effectively, far fewer people understand the importance of an effective cool down routine after exercise. It is all too common for people to think the full time whistle means the end of their work out. This is a far from effective approach to exercise. Not only will not cooling down limit the benefits of the workout you have just done, it will also lead to Delay Onset Muscle Fatigue (DOMS), which will result in your muscles aching days after your exercise. This will be uncomfortable and will limit how soon you can train again afterwards. An effective cool down can also improve your flexibility long term as well as helping with muscle growth by replacing important nutrients for growth.

Here is a guide explaining what you should do for an effective cool down

It is crucial that the importance of an effective warm up and cool down is not underestimated. In order to maximise your performance and speed up your recovery, both are vitally important. If you don't already, then make sure you begin including a warm up and cool down as part of your regular exercise. They are just as important before a training run, as they are before a big race or important match. Make warming up and cooling down a habit, not a chore. 

How do you warm up and cool down? Do you prefer static or dynamic stretches? Do you have any exercises you swear by as part of a warm up?

Share your thoughts on warming up and cooling down below. 

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    You have touched on one of my pet annoyances at gym. I watch people get up and walk out before the cool down in BodyPump, aerobics, Zumba etc. First of all, I feel embarrassed for the instructor; I think it is incredibly rude and insulting. I can't understand why they miss the last track, the last 5 minutes, too much in a hurry to cool down, which is so vital to their recovery. Grrrr

    Cags R and Andy D encouraged this.


    I have to admit I'm guilty of not always warming up/cooling down before a session of anything when I'm not coaching, especially when I'm just out by myself. Comparing that to when I do coach, there is a difference in how I feel the next day. I know full well why warm ups and cool downs should be part of exercise, at least a quarter of both my physiology and strength and conditioning lectures are on that very subject. It's just something that I need to train into myself. ...and yet never fail to tell the kids I coach. Heh, at least someone gets the benefit.

    Andy D and Jonathan H encouraged this.


    I have to admit I'm guilty of skipping a cool down from time to time. Definitely notice it either the next day or even the day after. Think it probably adds to my mega inflexibility too - some simple stretching whilst my muscles are warm would really help me become more flexible


    I agree with you Jane... Even i have seen a lot of people who come to the gym and directly start with their strength training.. i have also tried making a few people warm up and cool down with me. Whenevr i workout, i make a point to first start with stretches, then a few pushups and pull ups, aerobic training(running, cycling, crossrunner etc) and the i go for strength training.. which is again followed by aerobic cooling down and stretching..!!!

    Cags R encouraged this.


    I am guilty of shirking this part I must admit, but you are so right that it is incrediably important.

    Cags R encouraged this.


    I think I'm naturally a lazy person because I just can't start running fast. When I run with my friends they just race off and I'm always telling them to slow down especially when we have to run a couple of miles.


    I did a UK athletics coaching course almost a year ago and we were taught not to use static stretches in the warm up as they do not warm the muscles up, so I find it interesting that you say they still have their merits in the warm up but then do not cite any. We were taught to use the static stretch as a cool down stretch. I am not a sports scientist or physiologist so only know what the current teaching from UKA is. I would like to know why you think they should be used as part of the warm up and what merits they bring to this part of a routine.

    Neil B and Jane H encouraged this.


    It is very true that there have been a lot of studies recently that suggest static stretching should not be part of warm ups and clearly if UK athletics are adopting that stance then there is real merit behind it. However, there are also many recent studies which refute the idea that static stretching has an adverse effect on performance when carried out pre-game, such as this recent study in Medicine & Science in sports & Exercise - and this one published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology - . Both of these studies refute the idea that static stretching has an adverse effect. Admittedly I should have outlined clearer that any static stretches should be performed for a maximum of 30 seconds each, as suggested in these studies. Ultimately, as it stands there is no conclusive proof on either side of the argument. Until there is conclusive proof either way it is hard to make a definitive decision either way.


    Catherine, I have noticed that my daughters do dynamic stretches before a netball game - usually 15 mints of warming up, then skill work for another 15 minutes. At the end of the game, I would like to see them cool down with some static stretches, but I have only see them jog a slow lap of the court.

    Catherine M encouraged this.


    A slow jog slowing to a walk is good to get rid of any lactic acid that may have built up but the stretches should be done as well to reduce tightness and reduce the risk of injury, at least one stretch for each major muscle group used, so for netball they need arm and shoulder stretches as much as leg stretches. If the person who is in charge of the group is ok you could offer to lead a cool down stretch

    Jane H encouraged this.


    Thanks for those references Neil, the second one was probably the more useful and I think supports what I was taught with regards to athletics as there are not really any elements that necessitate a high degree of static flexibility, other sports would probably need that more, mens gymnastics for example. Its always useful to have different viewpoints on things especially as I work with U13s predominantly who are usually involved with a wide range of other sports and who are prone to getting into bad habits, so I do try and teach them some of the 'why' as well as the 'what'.


    In my personal opinion, every person's body work differently. Before doing a sport event, I usually do dynamic stretching and also focus more on my breathing; rather than running around. I normally do this to prevent my body from being stiff and to feel lighter, which means that it won't affect my speed (since speed is a huge factor and my deadliest weapon, which I use in sports). But, I do try and run for a bit, but not to the point where i am out of breathe; which, I fount out would ruin me from getting at my top performance. Overall, it would depend on the person's body and fitness.


    For me,I do a 5-min easy jog,then I do dynamic exercises/dynamic stretching with one or two static stretches.After my workout,I walk a while to cool down,then do static stretches

    Neil B and Ann L encouraged this.


    After tearing my Achilles' tendon and coming out of plaster, physio and rehab and back into competitive squash a few years ago, I took very seriously the advice my physio gave me which was, warming up is the single best thing I could do to give myself the best chance of this injury not occurring again. I now give warming up, cooling down, stretching and yoga much more attention then before, and also because I'm in my 40's now I feel the negative effects of not stretching much more keenly than I did in my 20's. Whenever possible I try and get to the court 15-20 mins early to spend time warming up and now feel really uncomfortable if I can't do that. Thanks for this helpful, clear and important article.

    Cags R encouraged this.

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