If you've ever started running with no warm up beforehand, you've probably experienced that sudden, stabbing pain of a cramp or a stitch in your side. Nothing puts you on the sidelines faster than an exercise-related injury, and nothing's more annoying when all you want to do is get up and go. To prevent exercise-related injuries, it's important to warm up before you hit the track, field, or court.
Warming up doesn't have to be complicated. You just need to move your body, but don't start out at full speed or intensity. Give your muscles a chance to get used to the activity, and you'll be increasing blood flow and oxygenation. This prevents cramps and other, more serious injuries.
Muscles aren't the only things that need to be warmed up before you get moving. Take care of your joints, and they'll take care of you. Move through a slower, easier version of the activity you're about to perform, and check in with your body as you go. Everything feel okay? Great. But if it doesn't, take the time to stretch it out, warm it up, and really listen to what's happening down there. If something doesn't feel right, tread carefully, or you might just make it worse if you go too fast.
After your exercise, it's just as important to cool down. Your heart rate will likely be elevated by the activity you've just finished, and your breathing will be faster, too. Catch your breath, walk it out, and wait for your heart and breath to return to normal. Stretching your muscles after exercise also helps prevent the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which can keep them from being sore the next day.
Warming up and cooling down are part of a successful exercise routine, and shouldn't be skipped. The benefits of avoiding injury during your workout and preventing soreness and aiding recovery the next day are awesome, so don't rush in! Your body will thank you.