A warm-up serves three purposes – prepares the body for activity, enhances performance by improving movement quality and prevents injury.
Warming up is quite literally the process of warming up your body by increasing your core temperature. This improves muscle elasticity thereby reducing the risk of strains and pulls. Warm-up also lubes the joints and gets the blood flowing.
It is important to avoid lifting weights cold. Your joints and tissues are not likely to be injured when they are warm. A warmed muscle is more flexible muscle that is better able to lift heavier weights and work in a full range of motion.
General warm up : This can be done by walking, light jogging, cycling for 5-10 minutes. You should not be pushing so hard that you are dripping with sweat but hard enough that you can feel yourself getting warmer with mild perspiration. Also doing exercises like jumping jacks, rope jumping, pushups, lunges for 2-3 minutes are great. The goal is to increase your core body temperature and get the blood flowing and not create fatigue. Warm-up is not a workout so don’t overdo it.
Specific Warm up : This is a lot like rehearsing an anticipated movement a few times before doing it at full speed or power. The nature of the specific warm-up depends on the activity to follow. Keep in mind that warm-up is just warm-up not training, fatigue should not happen otherwise the training will suffer. Specific warm-up are best done after completing a general warm-up.
When you are weight training, perform one or two non-fatiguing warm up sets at the beginning of each muscle group. It is not for entire sets but just for every body part. This can be as simple as performing a warm up set of repetitions with 25% to 50% of your training weight.
Stretching is not the same thing as warm up. Stretching does not warm you up. In fact stretching is better after you are warm, when your muscles are more elastic. That is why it is better to stretch at the end of your workouts or between exercises.
When done properly, stretching can increase flexibility. Flexibility is an important component of physical fitness in a resistance training program. Some benefits of stretching are mental and physical relaxation, reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons, reduced muscle soreness therefore a faster rate of recovery from exercise, reduced muscle tension and loosening of muscle tissue thereby allowing an increased range of motion.
After you have completed your workout, the best way to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness is to perform a cool-down for 5-10 minutes.
Cool-down slowly slows down the heart rate and returns it to resting rate.
Cool-down is especially important after intense exercise that contains an anaerobic component i.e. a very intense resistance training. Anaerobic exercise results in lactic acid accumulation in the blood stream and muscles. A cool down period of light aerobic activity will help remove the lactic acid. Also muscle soreness that usually follows heavy exercise is minimized or eliminated.
Bottom Line: There is no doubt that the time spent on warming up, stretching and cooling down will improve an your level of performance and accelerate the recovery process needed before and after training.