Warm up

Everybody needs to get warmed up before exercising, especially those that are overweight and out of shape.  Stretching is fine, but it’s over-rated.  Here’s the reason.  The point of “warming up” or “stretching” is to supply more blood to the soon-to-be effected area.  When your muscles are “cold” it simply means they don’t have much blood circulating in them.  They are warm when you do.  Your body is smart enough to know that when you start using a muscle it needs to send blood there.  Stretching does this.

Another, more effective way, is to actually use the muscles that you are going to use.  What I mean is to do a quick light workout.  For example, if you were going to play basketball, how would you warm up most effectively (think about how the pros do it)?  Would you stretch out your muscles one by one and then run out on the court ready for a full-on game?  Or would you do some practice shots, lay-ups, free throws, 3 pointers, and so on?  The same applies to exercise.

I do this a total of 2 (relatively slow) times followed by a slow, deliberate jog for about 2 minutes.

For me, this is adequate for a full, intense 15 minute run.  You may need more.  Again, listen to your body and determine what it needs.  I could waste my time stretching my biceps, my triceps, my legs, etc.  This could take a long time.  That’s fine, but why should I stretch for 10 minutes when I can warm up sufficiently in about 3 minutes?  Consequently, I would recommend this for two reasons. First of all it saves time; it’s just faster.  Secondly, it’s more realistic.  Stretching is not the same as working muscles.  Working them lightly is just logically a better way to prepare them for use.  Stretching before a workout also reduces force output whereas warming up does not.  In other words, stretching can actually limit your ability to perform.

Again, you may need to do more than this.  If you are older, out of shape, or new to this kind of exercise you may not be ready for an intense run by just doing what I do for warm-up.  However, you still probably don’t need to stretch every single muscle in the traditional sense.

Cool down

It is also important to “cool down” after exercise.  My running cool down is just a brisk walk for a few minutes.  You may need more.    Stretching is fine too, but just slowing down for a while is probably adequate.  Cooling down is just slowing the blood flow to your muscles so it can gradually return to a resting level, sort of the opposite of warming up.   It is particularly important at the end of a cardio workout to slow down before doing any stretching.  Don’t just stop and stretch because it could cause muscle cramps.  Warming up a cooling down are important because you want to be a healthy person, not a person in pain!