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Warm Up Like a Lamb, Work Out Like a Lion

Whatever your age and fitness level, warming up before and cooling down after exercising can help prevent muscle strains and tears, joint pain, and other injuries. It also can help improve the quality of your workouts.

Warming up before your workout, for example, allows your heart rate and circulation to increase gradually. As more blood begins flowing to the muscles, it releases oxygen, raises the temperature of the muscles, and allows them to contract and relax more efficiently ¾ a process that increases the elasticity of muscles. Cooling down after you exercise allows your heart rate and blood pressure to drop gradually so that it can safely return to normal. Stretching after your workout when your muscles are warm can help improve the overall flexibility of your muscles and range of motion of your joints.1

In addition to the physical changes that come with a gradual approach to starting exercise, warming up gives you time to release your mind from distractions and begin focusing on your workout. Cooling down, on the other hand, is a good time to ease your mind toward activities you’ll resume after exercising.

See your Summit Medical Group practitioner
before starting a new or intensifying your current exercise routine.

How to Warm Up for Your Workout

  • Start slowly
  • Begin with moderate cardiovascular exercise such as walking or jogging on a treadmill, using an elliptical machine, or cycling on a stationary bike
  • Keep your pace slow and steady for 5 minutes, and then gradually increase your speed over the next 5 to 20 minutes
  • Relax and be mindful of your posture, breathing, and how your muscles feel
  • If your muscles cramp, reduce your pace so that you can comfortably
    continue the activity

You should not feel muscle pain or cramping
or be out of breath during your warm up.

Some exercisers include stretching in their warm up sessions. Stretching before a vigorous workout is especially important if your muscles are sore or feel tight. Some runners, for example, feel better prepared for a vigorous run if they stretch their calf, hamstring, and quadriceps muscles first. Other runners prefer to walk or jog slowly to warm up before settling into a fast-paced run. If you plan to stretch before your workout, warm your muscles with 5 to 10 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise before stretching.

How Long to Warm Up

For most exercisers, a good warm up session lasts 10 minutes to 20 minutes. If you’re reasonably fit and your daily exercise typically includes walking briskly, jogging, or cycling at moderate-to-vigorous intensity, a 10-minute warm up should prepare you for a vigorous workout. Athletes and exercisers who are very fit may need more time to warm up, especially if they plan to engage in a high-intensity activity.2

If you play a sport that includes bursts of high-intensity strength activities such as sprinting or jumping, it’s important to warm your muscles to prevent injuries and sudden cardiovascular problems.2 If you play a sport that requires standing with little movement at times such as tennis, baseball, or cricket, it’s best to stretch and move throughout the activity to keep your muscles warm.3

Cooling Down

Cooling down for 5 to 10 minutes with low-intensity cardiovascular exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, or jogging allows your heart rate and blood pressure to drop gradually. Stretching is ideal at the end of your cardio cool down because your muscles will have more elasticity from being warm.

Follow these tips for safe stretching:

  • Stretch only after your muscles are warm to avoid injuries
    from stretching cold, stiff muscles
  • Stretch slowly and gently, repeating each stretch 2 to 3 times or more
  • Breathe deeply and relax into each stretch
  • Do not over stretch your muscles
    • If a stretch causes pain, gently release it, and stretch it again slowly,
      being careful not to stretch too deeply – under stretching is always better than over stretching your muscles
  • Hold each stretch 20 to 30 seconds and do not bounce4

Even if you’re short on time, warming up and cooling down each time you work out is important for protecting your health.

Click here to learn more
about the Summit Medical Group Sports Medicine program. 




  1. Gray SR, De Vito G, Nimmo MA, et al. Skeletal muscle ATP turnover and muscle fiber conduction velocity are elevated at higher muscle temperatures during maximal power output development in humans. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2006;290(2):376–382.
  2. Wittekind A, Beneke R. Metabolic and performance effects of warmup intensity on sprint cycling. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(6):201–207.
  3. Yaicharoen P1, Wallman K, Morton A, Bishop D, de Villarreal ESS, González-Badillo JJ, Izquierdo M. Optimal warm-up stimuli of muscle activation to enhance short and long-term acute jumping performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007;100(4):393–401.
  4. Jones AM1, Koppo K, Burnley M. Effects of prior exercise on metabolic and gas exchange responses to exercise. Sports Med. 2003;33(13):949-971.