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Warm-ups, Cool-downs and Flexibility Training

Generally the first most neglected parts of any exercise programme! Read this page to understand the significance of what you and your clients may well be missing out on.

When time is short warm-ups and cool-downs are typically the first parts of an exercise programme that are cut or rushed through, to your personal training client’s detriment. 

Neglecting the warm-up will impede your clients ability to get the most out of their session and neglecting the cool down will impeded your clients ability to recover optimally.  Understanding the purpose and importance of well designed warm-ups and cool-downs, and implimenting these constructively is critical to delivering great personal training.



The purpose of the warm-up is to prepare the client mentally and physically for the conditioning exercise that follows and by doing so, to reduce the risk of injury. 

A well designed warm-up consists of the following two phases:personal%20training%20treadmills

1. General phase:  This typically consists of approximately five minutes of low-moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise utilising the muscles that will be worked during the body of the training session.

For example, if the client was going to be focusing on weight training exercises for the upper body then the rower would be an ideal piece of equipment for the general warm-up as it targets both the upper and lower body. 

2. Specific phase:  This phase comes after the general phase and consists of exercises that are similar or ‘specific’ to the exercises that will follow. 

This serves to awaken or ‘prime’ the nervous system, helps to co-ordinate movements and expose muscles, joints and connective tissue with an initially lighter load, to the range of motion that they will be exposed to under larger loads during the body of the workout. 

The specific phase is increasingly important if the body of the workout has a high neural component. personal%2520training%2520squats

For example, if the workout was going to consist of neurally complex resistance exercises such as squats and deadlifts then some warm-up sets of these exercises performed with light loads might make up the specific phase.

If the workout was going to be a sprint session then the specific warm-up might consist of some short sprints at 20-40% of maximum effort and some dynamic stretches to expose the muscles to a greater range of movement.


Physiological responses during warm-up

A well designed warm-up will achieve some or all of the following physiological responses in the body’s systems:


Physiological responses during warm-up


Blood flow is redistributed from internal organs to working muscles.  HR, SV and systolic BP all increase. 


Increased blood flow to working muscles helps raise muscle temperature and reduce muscle stiffness (much like what happens when you chew gum) – this improves the joint range of motion.


Ventilation (rate and volume) increases as does the activity of the respiratory muscles.  Gaseous exchange increases in the lungs and the bodies tissues.


Neural pathways are ‘primed’ or ‘awakened’ so they are ready for the workout to come and the movement patterns to be used are activated.


There is a change in hormone levels – glucagon levels for example increase to increase the supply of glucose rich blood for exercise.



Tpersonal%20training%20treadmillhe cool-down is actually the first step in the recovery process.  It is effectively the tapering off phase at the end of the workout and is typically a continuation of activity at a reduced intensity.

For example, after a 30 minute run the cool-down may consist of 5-10 minutes of light jogging gradually reducing to walking. 

As well as a continuation of activity at reduced intensity, another key component of a cool-down is stretching.  The aim of which is to return muscles (that have typically been shortened during the workout) back to resting length (or longer). 

Static stretches are where the muscle is held in a stretched position for a period of time greater than 15 seconds and are typically performed during the cool-down as they are more suited to encouraging muscles to relax and return to their resting length. personal%20training%20assisted%20stretching

Assisted stretching (with a partner) is another more advanced method of stretching which is also used as part of a cool-down.

The body’s ability to recover from exercise is significantly impeded when a cool-down is missed.  Think back to earlier in this chapter when we showed how much more quickly lactate was removed from muscles during ‘active recovery’ i.e. a well designed cool-down. 


Physiological responses during cool-down

Read through the following table which details the physiological responses of the body’s systems when cooling down and consider the effect of missing this vital first step in the recovery process. 


Physiological responses during cool-down


HR, SV and systolic BP all reduce gradually; continued muscular activity helps to ensure that blood doesn’t ‘pool’ in the working muscles, but is encouraged to flow from the muscles back to the vital organs.  This also helps the processing of waste products such as lactate.  


Continued blood flow to working muscles helps the removal of waste products from the muscle (lactate and CO2).  Muscles are returned to resting length reducing tension, encouraging relaxation and helping to protect from injury.


Ventilation (rate and volume) reduce but remain elevated to enable the exhalation of CO2 and inhalation of O2.


Learning of movements is enhanced with repetition in the cool-down.  Nervous system gradually lowers it’s ‘alertness’ reducing the activity in motor units enabling muscles to relax. 


There is a change in hormone levels – insulin levels for example increase to store unused glucose and fat.  ATP and phosphocreatine stores are replenished and accumulated lactate is processed.


Physiological  adaptations to flexibility training

personal%20training%20stretchingIt seems so far that flexibility training doesn’t cause many major responses or adaptations in the body. 

However, a major adaptation the muscular system benefits from due to flexibility training is a reduction in resting muscle tension. 

personal%20training%20shoulder%20stretchChronically over-worked muscles can shorten over time and remain tight (tense) causing discomfort, creating poor posture and predisposing people to injury. 

We often see chronically tight pectoral muscles in people who work hunched in front of computers all day or in body-builders who just love to train their ‘pectorals’ (by bench pressing all day every day) more than anything else – their shoulders are often hunched and rounded. 

There is nothing better than stretching to return a muscle to its proper length and allowing it to ‘switch off’ and relax.


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