Hot and Cold… Warming Up and Cooling Down

Last updated: August 2022

“You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no…"
Now that I’ve gotten Katy Perry stuck in my head, and now yours, the rest of the day… Yeah, you’re welcome!

As I was getting my dance (aka flail around my living room and usually avoid falling over) workout on this afternoon, I opted to save a song for the end of my workout. Motivation and all that jazz. Well… let’s just say that you don’t have to know a lot about exercise to know that the probable peak of my workout should not really have occurred right at the end..!

Kerri's heart rate throughout her workout, spiking at the end

Context: my starting heart rate was probably somewhere right around 110 beats per minute, according to this graph, with a head tilt to the fact that I pre-medicated with salbutamol (albuterol) which can bump up your heart rate.

Here’s where everybody get the bonus points for paying attention in gym class… What’s missing?

Warming up and cooling down with asthma

The warm-up and cool down… Duh, Kerri. Don’t you have a degree in this stuff? And you know that this part of the workout is especially important for people with asthma… You’ve written papers on that.

So, for all of you who are like me and know better, or for all of you who are like “I work out, I warm up, I stop working out, I cool down on the drive home/watching YouTube/walking to the bus…” let’s chat. So maybe next time I remember the existence of these core components of the workout… (And, yes, I absolutely planned a practice this morning containing a warm-up and cool-down that I’ll do tonight… And omitted it from my own workout. Skills.)

"You’re up then you’re down…"
(Oh, come on, you didn’t honestly think I’d stop the Katy Perry all the way up there, did you?)
The warm-up and cool down serve basically reverse purposes of one another. (Bear with me guys, bear with me!) Warming up your body prior to a workout helps to gradually prepare your body for exertion, so it doesn’t just freak out on you, whereas cooling down helps to gradually readjust your body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate (and more), for essentially the same reason—so your body doesn’t just freak out on you.
Let’s break it down, and how the warm-up and cool-down affect exercise induced asthma/bronchoconstriction (EIA/EIB).

The warm up

A long warm-up period is recommended for those of us with asthma (…Do they just want us to exercise longer?). While you can experiment and see what works best for you, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a 10 to 15 minute warm-up prior to activity.

Now, when I say “you can experiment”, here’s why: of course, a longer warm-up is a great idea if you’re about to do a long workout. But, what if—like earlier today—I am sliding in a 20 minute workout that was primarily in the 50-70% of my personal maximum heart rate range, briefly attaining an intensity higher than that. In this case—for myself—I’d probably just step up my intensity a bit more gradually for 5-10 minutes. Once you get to the 30-45 minute range, bump up the time, 60 minutes, bump it up… And so on.

What a warm up might look like
The key word here is gradual. If you have trouble gauging how hard you’re working, checking your heart rate can help—although it can be tricky to get right and not all technology is perfect when you’re in motion. You can also use your ability to talk vs. sing to measure your intensity—your method may vary!
Activities that are good for warming up might include

    • Walking and gradually increasing your pace
    • Cycling, gradually increasing resistance or speed
    • Jumping rope—increase the number of repetitions you get in each minute
    • Dancing - Consider, for example, the Macarena! Over the course of the song (various length versions are available!), the tempo increases.

The cool down

Your cool down may look similar to your warm up, but in reverse. Gradually back out of your workout until your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing are closer to normal.

But WHY?
Well, I’m not going to lie to you… the evidence is mixed here. In terms of injury prevention, there’s no real “proof” that a warm up and/or cool down will decrease your risk of injury, or delayed onset muscle soreness (the stiffness or soreness in your muscles that starts 6-24 hours after a workout). The Mayo Clinic notes that despite this, if you have time… Get your warm-up and cool-down on: it won’t hurt. But, if you’re running low on time… You most likely will not sustain any damage!1 A study comparing the results of similar publications on warm-up and exercise induced symptoms that a warm-up
In terms of why do those of us with asthma have to warm-up longer? Research notes that the drop in lung function with exercise can often be decreased with a warm up of more than 15 minutes—those who exercised for 15 minutes at 60% maximum heart rate, were better protected from symptoms of exercise induced asthma for up to 80 minutes—those who exercised in the same way for only 3 minutes did not experience the same benefits, although it is noted the sample of participants was limited2.

For those of us who experience exercise induced symptoms hours following exercise, this is due to a mechanism known as the “refractory period”—while it’s not super well understood, some theories include that a rise and fall of the hormones produced by our bodies during exercise may be responsible—for instance, certain hormones act as bronchodilators, and help to keep our airways more open2, so when these hormones taper off, people with asthma may experience symptoms. Another theory is that rapid inhalation of cool air that the body isn’t able to humidify and warm adequately, combined with inhalation of different particles like dust, dirt and other allergens, might contribute to these symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should consider using medication following a workout to reduce having delayed onset symptoms.

What about stretching?

Stretching, with the exception of my desire to try to get some more yoga into my life, isn’t my jam. I’m not saying it is not important, but, it’s debated whether or not this actually will prevent injury—stretching properly on a regular basis can, of course, improve flexibility and balance. In terms of warm-up and cool-down, however, static stretching (holding a pose) is best included as a part of your cool down, as your muscles should be warm to get the full effects of stretching, and prevent injury. Dynamic, or moving, stretching activities (think arm circles, lunges, etc.) are also a good idea to add here if they appeal to you, and may be included in the warm up portion of your workout if you so desire, after your body has warmed up. Warm muscles are more elastic, and it just makes sense to stretch with stretchy muscles!

Why you should warm up and cool down with asthma

It’s recommended that people with asthma warm-up and cool-down for 10-15 minutes before and after activity. Experiment if you feel the need to, but don’t skip a warm-up or cool-down completely. Warm-ups help to put you in the mindset for your workout, and will help you get the most of your time focused on activity. You can vary your activities to keep it interesting… and, just because there’s no “proof” that warm-ups and cool-downs decrease injury, doesn’t mean there’s proof that they don’t. Keep up the pattern until research tells us otherwise—airplanes need to get all their equipment running before they can fly, but they also have to prepare and make sure their landing gear is in place before gradually hitting the tarmac, too. And feel free to come up with a better analogy for me in the comments :].

Do you warm-up and cool down? What’s your favourite way to get in the pre- and post-workout prep in?

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