Warming Up And Cooling Down

By Grant Kerr - Published in 2003

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts recognize the importance of a proper warm-up. Benefits include injury prevention and improved performance. Yet, finding the correct method seems a little more complex. The two most frequently used methods include light aerobic work and/or stretching. Unfortunately, this method does not benefit athletes involved in dynamic sports such as boxing. "The major criticism against the typical warm-up is that it does not adequately prepare the athletes for the demands placed upon them in the ensuring session" (Adrian Faccioni).

A warm-up can be defined as a variety of activities, used to bridge the transition gap between rest and exercise. A typical warm-up usually involves a combination of light exercises and stretching, which gradually increase the level of activity until the specific intensity is reached. Warm-ups can be directly related to the session (use of sporting movements) or indirectly related (general movements). The primary purpose of a warm up is to increase body temperature and heart rate.

Benefits Of A Warm-up To Boxing

The increase in body temperature resulting from a warm-up has been linked to improved performance. Higher temperatures accelerate the rate of bodily processes. It speeds up both enzymatic and metabolic reactions. This improves metabolic adjustments to heavy work by causing an increase in energy release.

Another factor, which increases the rate of the metabolic processes, is the increase in heart rate that accompanies a warm-up. This increase helps prepare the cardiovascular system for work.

Another effect of an increased temperature and heart rate is facilitated nerve transmission. An increased velocity of nerve conduction helps to facilitate body movement. It also leads to an increase in the speed of muscle contraction and relaxation. This allows a more efficient cycle of muscle contraction/relaxation. For example, when performing a punch, while the triceps contracts, the biceps relax. However when returning the punching hand back to its original position, it is the biceps that contract, while the triceps relax. Making this cycle more efficient leads to less energy waste.

An increased body temperature also results in an increased muscle temperature. This could improve boxing performance by increasing the rate and force of muscle contraction and contractile mechanical efficiency. The resulting decrease in muscle tension allows for an enhanced ability of connective tissue to elongate, as well as a greater economy of movement.

The combination of increased body and muscle temperature, and an increased heart rate, leads to an increase of blood flow to skeletal tissues. This impacts boxing performance in its aerobic portion, by improving the efficiency of oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide removal.

There is an enhanced dissociation of oxygen from red blood cells, (haemoglobin releases oxygen more readily at higher temperatures), and a greater number of capillaries opened in muscle. This facilitates oxygen delivery by the muscles, resulting in a lower oxygen deficit at the onset of exercise. The warm-up also facilitates the removal and breakdown of anaerobic by-products.

Lastly, there are also psychological benefits, including increased arousal and the focusing of the athlete’s attention to the task, creating the correct mindset

Proper warm-ups are extremely important for sports requiring short duration, high intensity work bursts such as sprinting and jumping. The improvements in the nervous system are especially helpful for athletes involved in sports that demand high levels of complete body movement.

There are several important factors to consider when designing a proper warm-up. Research by D. Franks brought to light the following points:

  • Athletes engaged in short explosive sports benefit most from warm-ups. In trained athletes direct warm-ups are most beneficial.
  • Progressive or endurance type sports do not benefit from intense direct warming up, as fatigue may actually decrease performance. Moderate indirect warm-ups however can aid performance.
  • Intense indirect warm-ups interfere in performance through fatigue and are detrimental to skilled sports.

Designing The Warm-up

With these points in mind how do you go about designing a beneficial warm-up?

A sport specific warm-up can be done in 3 stages:

  1. General warm-up: joint rotations and aerobic activity
  2. Stretching: static stretches and dynamic stretches
  3. Sport specific activity: mimicking sporting activity

I. General Warm-Up - Joint rotations are performed first to facilitate joint movement by lubricating the entire joint with synovial fluid. This permits the functional movement about to follow.

The aerobic activity is used to increase the cardiac output and blood flow to skeletal muscles. Aerobic activity will help to reduce the risk of injury from stretching. Performing a general warm-up before stretching minimizes structural weakening, and increases the extensibility of connective tissue (warmer muscles are more elastic).

II. Stretching - Contrary to popular belief, stretching is not an effective warm-up, but is used as part of the process. The use of static stretching increases the range of movement of the major joints and muscles involved during the training session. Static stretching (stretching to farthest point and holding) is the safest method of stretching and has little expenditure of energy. However it does suffer from a lack of specificity and does not enhance coordination or prepare you for dynamic movements. "There is a low relationship between static flexibility and dynamic flexibility. Since sport movement is typically dynamic in nature, it appears the athletes would be best served by incorporating dynamic movements into their warm-up" (Shawn Kuster), meaning that if performed alone, static stretching could actually impair performance. Static stretches are performed before dynamic movements, to give the muscles and tendons time to adapt.

Dynamic stretching is then used to reach the maximum range of movement. Dynamic stretches involve controlled movements, such as walking lunges, trunk rotations and arm swings.

III. Sport Specific Movements - The use of a sport specific activity is done for two main reasons. First, stretches do almost nothing to increase temperature or blood flow. The sport specific activity increases the temperature and heart rate that have been lost as a result of stretching. This activity incorporates specific muscle groups and patterns, utilizing movement facilitation.


A proper cool down is also important. A cool-down is used to gradually return heart rate and blood pressure to normal after exercise. The rhythmic contractions of the large muscles help return blood to the heart (large amounts of blood pumped to extremities during exercise). Also, a proper cool-down minimizes muscle soreness. Muscular soreness results from cellular micro trauma, caused by either, torn or damaged tissue, or by metabolic accumulation.

A cool-down is especially important after high intensity exercise with an anaerobic content, such as boxing. Anaerobic exercise results in lactic acid build up in the bloodstream and muscles and a cool-down helps remove these products.

The cool-down consists of 2 parts:

I. Sport Specific Activity - Gradually reduces heart rate and blood flow, as well as removing metabolic by-products. "An active type of recovery is the best way of enhancing lactate removal after exercise" (Gupta 1996).

II.Static Stretching - Completes the reduction of heart rate and metabolic by-products. Also induces muscular relaxation via the firing of the golgi tendon organs.

Sample Warm-Up

General Warm-Up - Joint rotations: Fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, waist, hips, legs, knees, ankles, toes. Perform slow circular movements (clock-wise and anti clock-wise) until joint moves smoothly.

Aerobic Activity - This should involve at least 5 minutes of activity. A good example is skipping rope.

Stretching - Static stretching should be held for only 5-10 seconds per stretch (you are only warming up, not trying to develop flexibility), and should progress from your head downwards. Neck, shoulders, upper back, chest, triceps, biceps, forearms, abdominals, lower back, sides, hips/glutes, groin, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and feet.

Dynamic stretches should be performed with as many sets as it takes to reach maximum range of motion in any given direction.

These could include: Neck turns (up and down, left and right), arm twirls (forwards and backwards, as well as inwards and outwards), trunk twists (left and right), waist bends (in all directions), leg swings (forward, backward and across body) and ankle bounces.

Specific Warm-Up - The specific warm-up can start with some basic footwork patterns, before progressing to agility drills (lateral jumps, burpees etc), and finally a few rounds of shadow boxing.

Sample Cool-Down

Aerobic Activity - Skipping

Stretching - Static stretches, this time held for 15-30 seconds to override the stretch reflex and innervate the golgi tendon organs.

Works Cited

  1. Alter, M., J., (1998): Sport Stretch. Human Kinetics. Champaign: Illinois
  2. Bergh, V., (1980): Human power at subnormal body temperatures. Acta Physiol Scand. 478 pg.1-39.
  3. deVries, H., A., (1980): Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education and Athletics Wilfian C. Brown. Dubuque
  4. Gupta et al, (1996): Comparative study of lactate removal in short term massage of extremities, active recovery and a passive recovery period after supramaximal exercise sessions. International Journal of Sports Medicine 17 pg.106-110
  5. Faccioni, A.: Dynamic Warm-up Routines for Sport. Peak Performance On-line
  6. Franks, B., D., (1983): Ergogenic Aids in Sport. Human Kinetics. Champaign: Illinois
  7. Hartley, S.: Peak Performance On-line
  8. Kuster, S.: Why a Dynamic Warm-up. Peak Performance On-line
  9. Powers, S., K., and Howley, E., T., (2001): Exercise Physiology. McGraw Hill. Boston.
  10. Rabergs, R., A., et al (1991): Effects of Warm-up on Muscle Glycogenalysis during Intense Exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 3 pg.51-55

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