Basic Workout Format

Surprisingly, many people don’t do the three easiest and very important parts of a workout that maximize your exercise benefits.

Any type of workout you do should have four parts — whether you’re looking to burn calories, build muscle, boost heart health or improve your sports performance.

Follow these four steps any time you exercise and you’ll get more benefit from the same amount of work.

Step #1 – Warm Up
For the most efficient muscle contractions and healthiest start of any work out, spend two to three minutes warming up. This will coordinate the functions of your hear, lungs, muscles and circulatory system.

Do some light jogging in place, jumping jacks, butt kicks or high knee skips. This will raise your heart rate, gently stretch your muscles, and get blood flowing to muscles to warm them.

Don’t static stretch (hold a stretch) before workouts! This can desensitize your muscles for up to 20 minutes.

Step #2 – Exercise
Do your cardio, resistance, sprint training or other exercise as you normally do. Starting your exercise after a proper warm up lets you start exercising efficiently, without fighting your body.

Step #3 – Cool Down
Do you feel sore after workouts, even the next day? This comes from DOMS—the delayed onset of muscle soreness.

Don’t jump off that treadmill or stop your lifting or aerobics cold and head to the shower, phone or couch. Your heart may still be racing, blood will have pooled in your muscles and you’ll have lactic and other anabolic waste in your muscles.

Reduce the rate of your movements for about five minutes, until your heart rate gets below 100 beats per minute. This lets you lower your body temperature, release excess blood and anabolic wastes from your muscles and lowers your heart rate gradually. If you only have 30 minutes for a workout, stop after 25 minutes—don’t skip your cooldown.

Step #4 – Static Stretch
It only takes a few minutes of stretching to prevent a few hours of stiffness and soreness. Don’t bounce stretch—perform stretches slowly to your point of slight stress (not pain), then hold for 20 seconds or longer. You may lengthen your stretch naturally over the course of the stretch.

Don’t stretch before workouts. You don’t prevent injury with pre-exercise stretches, but you do desensitize your muscles and reduce your power. Your dynamic warmup movements provide the type of pre-exercise stretching you need.

If you only have 30 minutes for a workout, budget several minutes for a warmup, and five more for a cooldown and stretch. The extra minutes you “lose” by not exercising still burn calories, but improve your flexibility for future workouts and decrease stiffness and soreness after.

Additional Resources

Brian Mac: Warm Up and Cool Down

Mayo Clinic: Aerobic Exercise–How to Warm Up and Cool Down

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