A proper warm up and cool down routine will help prevent injuries and allow you to walk faster and longer, which can get you more steps. It’s understandable that most people want to maximize the time they have for walking – 10,000 steps per day isn’t necessarily easy. If you’re doing intense, fitness walking, however, warming up prepares your body to walk and cooling down ensures you gradually return to a normal, rested state. The extra few minutes you’ll spend will pay off in the form of more steps, less pain, and happier walking!
We’ll cover why warming up and cooling down are critical, how you can safely warm up and cool down, and some tips for fitting those extra few minutes into your schedule.
Don’t skip your warm up!
A proper warm up before exercise can reduce your risk of injury, and can get you ready for an intense walking workout or a regular brisk walk. When you warm up, you increase the blood flow to your muscles and limber up your joints so that they’re ready to work at their maximum potential. If you have preexisting injuries, doing a light warmup can increase blood flow to those areas which can reduce pain and discomfort.
Warming up can reduce your risk of injury in a variety of ways. Starting up a fast walk when your muscles are completely cold increases your risk of hamstring strains and similar injuries. When your joints are not warmed up, you’ll have less flexibility and freedom of movement. It may be easier to stumble, and a turned ankle or other injury may be worse if your joints aren’t at maximum flexibility.
Warm up correctly
Your warm up should be short – 5 minutes is usually a good amount. If you’re stiffer than average, you’re a senior or if you’re an exercise beginner than you may want to warm up for a longer period of time. Contrary to popular belief, static stretching while cold actually increases your risk of injury. If you do want to stretch, try dynamic stretching (like arm or leg circles) where you’re moving your body as opposed to bending or reaching. People with preexisting injuries should ensure that they warm up the specific injured body parts, which could involve making sure ankles, shoulders, or knees are limbered and warm before walking.
Walking can be a great warmup in itself! Simply walk at a leisurely pace for 5 minutes or longer, preferably along a flat, easy route. You can get your core and upper body warmed up by gently making arm circles, swinging your arms or twisting at your waist. Walking is primarily a lower body exercise, but you’ll have a more natural arm swing with less chance of related pain if you warm up your upper body as well. Bodyweight exercises that get you moving, like jumping jacks or leg circles, are other great ways to warm up!
Don’t skip your cool down
As you exercise, your heart beats faster and your blood vessels dilate. That’s important to get oxygen to your muscles as you’re exercising. Cooling down helps your blood pressure and heart rate gradually return to normal. Stopping too suddenly can cause you to feel dizzy and lightheaded, or in extreme cases to pass out. Cooling down also helps you mentally transition from exercise back to your normal state so that you’re ready to tackle whatever you’ve planned for next.
5 minutes is also a great cool down duration, but if you’re walking very intensely or you have specific health issues you may want to cool down for a longer period of time. A simple cool down could be to simply walk at a slow, leisurely pace for your cool down time.
Stretching is great after exercise
Towards the end of your walk your muscles and joints will be warm and ready for their full range of movement. This is the perfect time to stretch for flexibility, unlike your warmup when your body is not yet ready. You can read our piece on stretching to get you started. Good areas to target include your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, groin, and lower back. Stretching your neck, shoulders and arms can help increase flexibility and potentially improve your posture for future walks.
It’s important to note that you absolutely still can injure yourself stretching, even if you’ve exercised and you’re warmed up. Never stretch to the point of pain, and gradually ease into any stretch. For static stretches, try to hold a position rather than bouncing back and forth into the stretch.
How to fit warm ups and cool downs into your walks
With a bit of planning, you can fit your warm up and cool down into your walking routine without disrupting your schedule.
Account for the time
Make sure that you include your warm up and cool down time in your walking plan. If you’re going for 15 minutes of fast-paced fitness walking, you’ll probably need an extra 5 minutes each at the start and end of your workout. Alternatively, you can shorten the very fast walking portion to make sure you fit your warm up and cool dow in.
Know when to take it easy
Getting a few steps in whenever you have some free time is important to hit your step goals and get healthy, but if you only have 2 minutes then realistically you won’t be able to do intense fitness walking. That’s totally fine! Take it easy in those cases so that you don’t injure yourself.
Warm up/cool down at home
You probably can’t easily speed walk at home, but warming up and cooling down can easily be done even in a small apartment. Your warm up and cool down could simply be pacing or walking in place at home. All you need is a flat surface to stretch after walking as well. That way, you can maximize the steps you get during your outdoor time.
Don’t get complacent
Make sure to warm up and cool down every time, no matter what. It’s easy to get complacent and think that you’ll won’t get injured. Walking is something you want to do (almost) every day, and injuries are the quickest ways to miss steps. You’ll get more steps in the long run if you keep your body in good condition!
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