When reading a recipe for baking cookies, the first instruction nearly always reads, “Preheat oven to 350˚.” This is so that when you bake the cookies, the oven is ready at an optimal temperature to bake them properly. When the cookies are finished and the oven is turned off, you want to make sure to wait until all of the heat is gone before storing anything in the oven again. You properly warm up and cool down your oven before and after baking cookies; it is just as important to do the same for your body before and after exercise. It’s one of the best ways you can prevent sports injuries.
How to warm up properly
Warming up your body should take anywhere from ten to twenty minutes. It can include:
- Brisk walking
- Stretching the whole body (lunges, partial squats, or forward bends)
- Stretching the particular muscle groups that are going to be used
- Any other movement that gets the blood moving through the body (like jumping jacks or arm circles)
Simply put, your muscles are stiff from disuse prior to exercise and they need to be woken up. A warm up gives your body better flexibility and decreases that stiffness during the workout.
Benefits of a warm-up
Warming up can help prevent sports injuries, but it does more than that. Warming up also:
- Helps your muscles absorb oxygen when you work out
- Increases your metabolism, getting it ready to kick into high gear for when the exercise really begins
- Improves blood circulation as you exercise
- Increases heart rate (which helps support you during heavier exercise)
- Gives you better range of motion during the workout
All of these benefits to warming up are crucial if you are going to workout.
The benefits of a proper cool-down
Just as important as the warm up is the cool down.
One of the primary benefits of exercise is the release of stress, but without a cool down period, this benefit is not realized. Taking ten to twenty minutes to cool down by doing any of the exercises you did to warm up signals to your brain that it is time to stop releasing adrenaline and cortisol. This helps your body relax and calm down.
Your muscles also need that signal to return to their normal state. When you exercise, blood generally flows away from the heart to the extremities, and a cool down period brings that blood back to the heart. If you are working out intensely and stop suddenly, you may feel light-headed and even faint if you do not cool down properly. Slowly bringing your heart rate to normal also calms respiration and prevents hyperventilation. A final benefit to cooling down is that it helps remove lactic acid slowly from the muscles; this prevents cramps and muscle spasms.
How to treat sports injuries when they occur
Unfortunately, even if you are warming up and cooling down properly, injury can occur. Even for the most careful person, the person who warms up, cools down, and wears safety gear, injury is inevitable at some point. Stepping off a curb incorrectly or a quick motion on unstable ground can cause injury.
Learning how to prevent sports injuries is important, but just as importantly, is treating them if they do occur. This is because inadequate resting or treatment can lead to compounding problems and increased pain later on down the road.
Reacting quickly and treating the injury is important to minimize downtime and speed healing after an exercise-related injury. A good acronym to remember is RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.
Stop the exercise immediately. Rest occurs from right after to the injury to several days after, depending on the severity of the injury (and guidance from a doctor, when appropriate).
Limit physical activity or use of the injured area during this time. Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet to help your body heal.
Ice should be applied to the injured area to prevent excessive swelling. Inflammation is the body’s protective shield and is appropriate directly after the injury occurs, but after activity it is important to keep swelling down to allow the area to recover.
Apply a towel-wrapped bag of ice or a cold pack for ten to 20 minutes, three times a day, or as guided by a doctor. If the swelling goes down after a day or two, you can then apply heat to the affected area.
This step is often paired with ice. The injured area can be wrapped with a flexible bandage, ice applied, and that can be held in place with another flexible bandage. Compression lends support to the injured area and keeps swelling down.
Finally, when possible, raise the injured area above the level of the heart. This prevents blood from rushing to the area and increasing swelling.
Arnica cream can also be applied to the affected area twice a day to reduce bruising and swelling.
If you cannot move the injured area, or the injury is accompanied by pain that is not eased by the previous steps, go see your doctor as soon as you can. Some injuries can be deceptive and may require a special splint or supportive device (like an inflatable boot). If you feel uncertain about the level of severity of the injury, especially if it is your first injury, then consider visiting a doctor as your first step.
Taking quick action when injured can help speed healing and ease pain; how do you respond when you get hurt?