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Planning a workout regimen should include all four phases of exercise to help prevent injuries while burning the most possible calories. If you take the time to start and end slowly and stretch your muscles, you can help support your cardiovascular system and reduce the chance of muscle stiffness following your workout.
Warming up is an essential part of your workout. This helps your heart rate rise gradually instead of pumping full-force suddenly. It warms up your muscles by increasing the blood flow to them, getting them ready to perform at peak condition. Warming up can be as simple as performing your chosen exercise at a slower pace. For example, you can jog for a few minutes before starting an intense run, or swim slowly before tackling timed laps. For a general warm-up before lifting weights, walk on the treadmill for about five minutes or perform other light exercises such as side steps with side-arm lifts.
Stretching is most effective when you're muscles are warmed up, so stretch after your warm-up routine then again after your cool down. Spend a few minutes stretching your entire body, holding each stretch at least 10 seconds after your warm up or 30 seconds after your cool down. If you alternate days so you're working upper body one day and lower body the next, full-body stretches are still essential. You might work one area harder than the other, but many exercises engage your core and back or require you to use your legs or arms for stability on days you're not working them. Stretching all your muscles keeps them flexible and ready for heavy workout days.
Conditioning can be aerobic exercise, such as running or biking, or it can be weight training. For best results toning your body, combine the two types of conditioning. When your muscles are warm and stretched, launch into your conditioning workout for at least 30 minutes. This helps keep your heart rate up long enough to begin burning fat.
Cooling down your body helps decrease your heart rate gradually and allow blood to flow away from your muscles, where it concentrates during a workout. Cooling down your muscles slowly can help reduce soreness following your workout. It's similar to warming up; you can perform your aerobic exercise at a slower pace, or walk around the room for a few minutes. This gives you time for your breathing to return to normal. A cool down should last five to 10 minutes, then make sure you take time to stretch while your muscles are at their warmest.