All Sections of a Fitness Class Have a Purpose: Try not to be late, Try not to leave early
There isn’t any moment in a fitness class hour that is less important than another. Exercising your heart and lungs, strengthening your muscles, testing and practicing your balance — they are all important. But the beginning and end of the class are equally important, and shouldn’t be missed.
Think of the warm-up (the first 10-15 minutes of class) as a time for revving up your body in the same way that you start your car and allow it to warm up before driving it. Think of the cool-down as an opportunity to release and relax muscles, as well as lower hormonal levels.
A warm-up period is needed to transition from rest to higher-intensity exercise. As your body warms up, it gets ready for what is to come. A variety of problems that are sometimes brought on by sudden strenuous exertion may be prevented if a warm-up is completed first.
Here are the physiological benefits of warming up:
- Increases circulation of oxygen through your lungs and delivery of oxygen to your working muscles;
- Improves your coordination and reaction time, as the nervous system becomes “tuned”;
- Increases blood saturation of your muscles, tendons and joints, which helps to prevent injury, allows muscles to relax and contract faster, and gives more strength, power, and coordination to any of your movements;
- Increases your metabolic rate which improves your body’s efficiency to burn calories;
- Increases your body temperature which stimulates the systems involved in oxygen transport, which in turns increases the efficiency of your metabolism.
A person’s ability to perform vigorous and prolonged exercise unfortunately declines with age; as a result, it takes longer for breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption to reach balance and stability during exercise. If the period of warm-up is not adequate, the cardiopulmonary systems are unnecessarily strained.
Equally important is an adequate cool-down period for the body to recover from the changes. Inadequate cool-down may result in venous pooling in the legs — which may lead to a rapid drop in blood pressure, creating light-headedness or fainting after exercise. Without an adequate cool-down, cardiac rhythm disturbances can be brought on by high levels of hormones released during exercise.
Essentially a warm-up in reverse, the cool-down slowly decreases body temperature, heart rate, and respiration to pre-activity levels.
The physiological benefits of the cool-down are:
- Decreases body temperature;
- Decreases heart rate and respiration;
- Decreases blood pooling in the extremities;
- Decreases epinephrine and norepinephrine levels;
- Decreases muscle soreness and recovery time.
If you arrive late or leave early, you miss these vital components of the fitness class. More importantly, you are more vulnerable to injury which might mean you would not return to class.
Thanks to G. Jessie Jones and Debra J. Rose, editors of the textbook, Physical Activity Instruction of Older Adults, published in 2005 by Human Kinetics. In particular, Chapter 10, “Principles of the Warm-Up and Cool-Down“ were very useful to me for this article.
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.