Winter exercise: the importance of warming down after exercise

If you play sports or exercise regularly, you’ll know the importance of doing a warm-up before you start. A warm-up prepares your body for any aerobic activity ahead, through gradually raising your body temperature, your heart rate, and increasing blood flow to your muscles.

For many sports, a warm-up includes, slower, less intense versions of the actions you use in the activity, from leg lunges for curlers to mock bow draws for archers. It’s known as a dynamic dynamic warmup, and whilst you might break a mild sweat, you won’t feel tired in any way.

Struggling with frequent muscle strain or reoccurring sports injury? Call us for a consultation to discuss a treatment and recovery plan here at Active Care Physiotherapy.

Warm ups for every day activities

The same warm up principle applies to any physical activity, especially in the wintertime here in Canada. The temperature difference between inside and outside can quite literally take your breath away. So, if you’re planning to head outside to shovel snow, cut logs or even just scrape down the car, warm up first.

Before you get into your bulky coat, gloves and boots, shake your arms and legs out. Roll your shoulders, gently turn your upper body, swing your arms to warm up the very muscles you’ll be using once outside. Leave stretches of your leg muscles until last, when your muscles are warmer, to avoid strains and injuries.

Then, before you cool down, get into your outside gear and get going. Yes, the temperature difference will be the same, but your muscles will be warmed up ready for action, not going from inactive and cool to cold before heating up. Warming up before shovelling will help prevent strains and injuries as a result.

Remember this when you’re at work too, and gently warm up before loading boxes, stacking stock or any other physical activity you haven’t been doing that day already.

Pulled muscles or pains after exercising or physical activity? Make an appointment with us to talk through your issues and possible causes.

Why do a warm down

You also need to cool down gradually. Rushing back inside after shovelling and stripping off all your layers may get you instantly cool, but it’s a very rapid process. Research suggests that a more gradual cool down is much more beneficial. It’s about restoring your normal body temperature, hence the alternative term, warm down.

So, if you’re outside shovelling snow and you’re almost done, slow down your pace for the last five minutes or so. Gently come to an end of your activity. Stow away the shovel, and maybe do a couple of stretches, shake-outs and arm waves when still outside.

Once inside, take off your outdoor clothing and then take off any inner layers that are damp or wet, especially socks. Wet clothing cools faster, so change into something dry and clean. Continue to be active for a few minutes with a few gentle stretches and movements rather than flopping down in a chair. The aim is to allow your temperature, heart rate and blood vessels to gently return to their pre-exercise levels, reducing strain on your system.

Sadly, there’s little evidence that a warm down will stop muscles aching after vigorous exercise, but your cardiac system will thank you for it!

How long should a warm-up be?

It all depends on what you’re doing. The Mayo Clinic suggests:

  • To warm up for a brisk walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to 10 minutes.
  • To warm up for swimming, swim slowly at first and then pick up the tempo as you’re able.

Just reverse the process for a cool down / warm down.

Warm-up examples

This video shows a gentle dynamic mobility warm-up by WebMD that takes just five minutes. You can do it in your front room, no problem, and the presenter suggests variations for those with lower fitness levels or recovering from injury.


And here’s the cool down –

Do I need to warm up before working out?

Yes! As a post at Nerd Fitness puts it:

“If you don’t have enough time to warm up, then you don’t have enough time to work out.”

A five minute warm-up is ideal, as per the video below from a major training shoe company. Notice how slowly the warm-up starts, and how it replicates moves used in a gym workout.

Physiotherapy for everyone

At Active Care Physiotherapy, we treat hundreds of local residents of all ages and fitness levels to enable them to recover from major or minor injury and prevent further injury in the future. Call us to see how we can help you this winter.