Exercise 101: Don't skip the warm-up or cool-down

Warm up exerciseImage: iStock

You might be eager to leap into your exercise routine and get on with the day — but don't just dive in. Starting a workout with "cold" muscles can lead to injury. It's important to start each workout with a warm-up and end with a cool-down — and that goes for true beginners, seasoned pros, and everyone in between.


Warming up pumps nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to your muscles as it speeds up your heart rate and breathing. A good warm-up should last five to 10 minutes and work all major muscle groups. For best results, start slowly, then pick up the pace. Many warm-up routines focus on cardio and range-of-motion exercises, such as jumping jacks and lunges. If you prefer, you can do a simpler warm-up by walking in place while gently swinging your arms, or even dancing to a few songs.


After your workout, it's best to spend five to 10 minutes cooling down through a sequence of slow movements. This helps prevent muscle cramps and dizziness while gradually slowing your breathing and heart rate. An effective cool-down also incorporates stretching exercises to relax and lengthen muscles throughout your body and improve your range of motion. To get the most out of these exercises, hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. The longer you can hold a stretch, the better for improving your flexibility. As with the warm-up, it's best to flow from one stretch to the next without rests in between.

For more tips on exercise, buy the Workout Workbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. From warm-up to cool-down and everything in between, our nine complete workouts offer you the benefits of strength training, flexibility, balance, and relaxation exercises.