How Your Warm-Up and Cool-Down Enhance Your Workout

How Your Warm-Up and Cool-Down Enhance Your Workout

Hint: That PR is closer than ever.

By Alyssa SybertzUpdated January 29, 2021


When you have a limited amount of time to commit to your workout—like most people on most days—it can be tempting to skip the warm-up and the cool-down, treating these few minutes at the front and back of your ride or your run as something that’s standing in the way of you completing your workout. But in fact, these pre- and post-workout sections are critical to achieving your peak performance.

“The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare the body for the main set of the workout so that we not only avoid injury but also optimize performance,” explains Peloton cycling and running instructor Matt Wilpers. “When we think about waking up the body, we think about restoring mobility but also activating the muscles we intend to use so that we have better neuromuscular control and efficiency during the workout.” Indeed, diving into the heart of a workout with cold, stiff muscles will increase your risk for injury, plus limit your speed and power and sap your confidence. But complete a dynamic warm-up and you’ll see the effects in your total output: In a study from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, collegiate athletes who completed a dynamic warm-up before practice every day for four weeks saw improvements in strength, endurance, agility and anaerobic capacity compared to those who didn’t warm up.

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The warm-up also offers a chance for you to transition mentally into your exercise time, leaving your chores and responsibilities at the door. “It’s a great opportunity early on to take stock of everything that’s going on in your body,” says Peloton running, bootcamp and strength instructor Selena Samuela. “You can do a full body scan and wherever you find tension, release that tension. Whatever baggage you’re carrying holds no rank. It’s not about what’s going on outside, but what’s going on in that moment.”

Once you’ve emptied the tank and your session is complete, the cool-down prepares your body to maximize your recovery. “When we finish a demanding workout, often our blood vessels are dilated in order to get sufficient oxygenated blood to the working muscles,” explains Wilpers. “By simply continuing to exercise but at a much lower intensity, it allows our bodies to gradually (instead of suddenly) come back to a pre-workout state. As we proceed through the cool-down, the contraction and relaxation of our muscles helps remove waste products as well as maintain good blood circulation.”

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Taking a few minutes to cool down will help put you in the headspace to appreciate everything you just accomplished and then carry that feeling out into the rest of your day. “Whatever ride you completed, I want you to finish with a mentality focused around the phrase strong body, strong mind, strong living. And finish and feel powerful when you jump off the bike,” says Peloton cycling instructor Ben Alldis. The result: You’ll reduce same-day and next-day muscle soreness, plus feel relaxed and capable as you tackle your work and to-dos.

How long should your warm-up and cool-down be? “The more intense the main set of a workout is, the longer you want to take in warm-up and in cool-down,” recommends Wilpers. “As we age, our bodies have a tendency to stiffen (especially men). So it’s often a good idea to take longer as we get older as well.” Every Peloton class includes a brief warm-up and cool-down, but you can find extended warm-up and cool-down classes ranging from five to ten minutes long on your Bike, Tread, or in the Peloton App. And in case you were wondering, a minute spent exercising is a minute well spent--we think those additional few minutes count towards your milestones just as much as the class itself!

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