Advance with MUSC Health

Proper Warm-up & Cool-down Routine

Image of a woman in exercise clothes, sitting on a pier while tying her sneakers as the sun rises in the background.

By Alecia Good ATC, ACSM-CEP

One of the best ways for athletes of all ages to prevent injuries is to ensure they are completing a proper warm-up and cool-down. Warm-up and cool-down exercises can be catered to the sport but have similar goals for all exercise activities. Warm-up programs should prepare the body by slowly speeding up the heart rate, increasing respiration rate, and activating muscles. Cool-downs should focus on muscle recovery through stretching and reducing metabolic waste (lactic acid and other byproducts) that can cause tissue damage from exercise. This blog will detail a warm-up and cool-down program for a running athlete, but exercises can be catered to specific field sports by including more sport specific activities or drills.

Warm-up Program

1. Cardiovascular warm up: A running athlete may choose to do a brisk walk, ride a stationary bike, or a light jog for about 5 minutes. This will allow the heart and respiration rate to slowly increase while increasing blood flow to the working muscles.

2. Muscle activation: Athletes may choose to do body weight strengthening and/or resistance band work to activate the major muscle groups involved in their sport. Runners should perform squats, calf raises, side steps with resistance band (around knees or ankles), glute bridges, and front and side planks.

Overhead athletes should consider adding resistance band exercises for shoulder strength and stability such as the Thrower's Ten Program (PDF).

3. Dynamic Warm-up: Complete each exercise going through a comfortable range of motion either stationary for 10 to 15 seconds or jogging for 10 to 15 yards. High knees, butt kicks, lunge walk forward, lunge walk with rotation, leg swing/toe touch to extended arms, side shuffle with side lunge stretch, open/close the gate, carioca, and skips (quick skips and power skips).

4. Single leg balance: Stand on one leg for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Increase difficulty by closing eyes or moving positions of non-standing leg.

5. Static stretch: Stationary stretches with hold for 20 to 30 seconds for any muscles that still feel tight. Static stretching during a warm-up is not essential. It is more important to complete static stretching as a cool down after exercise.

Cool-down Program

1. Cardiovascular cool down: Allow for five minutes of less intense activity to slowly decrease heart and respiration rate.

2. Static Stretch: Hold stretches for all major muscle groups for 2 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 seconds to the point of a gentle stretch and not pain. Quadriceps, hip flexor, hamstring, calf (knee bent and knee straight), gluteal, and hip adductor (groin) should be completed for lower extremity athletes.

Overhead athletes should consider shoulder stretches including cross body stretch, corner/doorway pectoralis stretch, and sleeper stretch.

Pictures of many of these exercises can be found on the fitness and nutrition website Spotebi.