Workout 101: Basic Workout Design

Any given workout should have, at its most basic level, three components:

1. Warm-up

2. Primary workout

3. Cool-down

The first part of a workout, the warm-up, is typically 5 to 10 minutes of light to moderate activity designed to ease you into a more vigorous workout. It is important for several reasons. First, as the term suggests, it warms up your muscle tissue, making it more pliable and more responsive, thus reducing the risk of injury and improving performance. Secondly, warming up loosens the joints, which helps to prevent injury and enable proper mechanics. Thirdly, it gradually raises your heart rate and blood pressure and dialates your blood vessels, preparing your cardio-pulmonary system for increased activity, and begins diverting blood flow from organs like the liver and kidneys to the muscles. Lastly, warming up can safely alert you to any areas that are sore, stiff, or mildly injured, so that you can properly address them prior to strenuous exertion.

Good warm-ups typically include two components:

Light movement of the whole body, such as jogging, jumping rope, or any other activity performed at low to moderate intensity; generally speaking, the more fit you are, the closer to moderate intensity your warm-up should be.

Dynamic stretching, which involves moving through the (nearly) full range of motion about the major joints without holding the stretch or straining your flexibility; this includes such exercises as arm circles, hip rotations, and torso twists.

Some general guidelines for warm-ups:

The colder the ambient temperature, the longer the warm-up should be. Ten minutes is generally sufficient in all but the most inclement conditions, and as little as 5 minutes is fine in warm environments.

Avoid static stretching (i.e., holding stretches for extended periods to improve flexibility); when muscles are not warmed up, they are not pliable, and so it is both ineffective and potentially harmful to stretch this way without properly warming up first.

Avoid explosive or other high-intensity movements or exercises; begin slowly and progress gradually when warming up.

The second part of a workout, the primary workout, is obviously the central component, and will be discussed in greater detail in subsequent "Workout 101" posts. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when designing your primary workout. Most importantly, what is the goal(s) of the workout? For example, you might have general functional goals (e.g., to improve/maintain speed, agility, stamina, balance, coordination, responsiveness, etc.), specific functional goals (e.g., to improve/maintain muscle strength, endurance, or power), mental goals (e.g., to maintain a program consistently, overcome a mental "block", etc.), or structural goals (e.g., to recover from a previous workout or to prepare yourself for future workouts. These elements will be discussed in greater detail in future posts.

The last part of the workout, the cool-down, is much like the warm-up in reverse. It gradually returns your body from its enhanced, exercise-oriented mode to its baseline. Generally speaking, the same activities you do for a warm-up can be done for a cool-down, but consider the following:

Static stretching is better than dynamic stretching at this time. Static stretching capitalizes on the pliability of your now-warm muscles to improve your flexibility safely.

The length of the cool-down is proportional to the intensity of the workout; the higher the intensity, the longer the cool-down. A cool-down should be at least 5 minutes, but it can last as long as you'd like.

Last modified on Thursday, 15 December 2011 17:13

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