Feb 16, 2018, 2:27:36 PM CST Feb 2, 2023, 4:28:01 PM CST

The importance of warming up and cooling down

Your young athlete can improve sports performance and prevent injuries by adding this simple step to their workouts

Teenage girl stretching before a run Teenage girl stretching before a run

If you want to help your child improve sports performance and prevent sports injuries, you might focus on the actions that occur during a game or workout. However, what happens before and after play has a significant impact on your young athlete’s health too. An expert shares why warming up and cooling down is vital to keeping your child strong, healthy and in the game.

Benefits of warming up and cooling down

Children’s muscles and bones are different than adults. A young body is under constant stress from growth and development, which can lead to tight muscles, varying levels of mobility and flexibility, and potential injuries – all of which can be addressed with proper warm-up and cool-down routines. Parents and coaches can help children understand this importance and encourage good practices from an early age. 

According to Jacob Rivera, CSCS, USAW, Performance Manager EXOS at Children’s Health℠, warming up and cooling down are critical for any age and any intense activity. “Improved performance should ideally also increase a child’s resistance to injury,” Rivera reminds us. “Proper warming up and cooling down can be great ways to reduce the overall risk of injury.”

Rivera notes that proper warm-up exercises can activate and protect a child’s muscles during sport or play. Not only will they help prevent injury, but proper warm-up and cool-down techniques can also help children perform better, improve their overall fitness levels and achieve more of their sports performance goals. 

Warming up basics

Whether your child is playing sports casually or trying to make the game-winning shot, there are ways to improve mobility (range of motion around a joint) and stability (ability to maintain control of joint movement) with warm-up exercises.

According to Rivera, warming up before activity will:

  • Increase the core body temperature and blood flow; the heart rate should go up and the child should be lightly sweating
  • Improve posture, a child’s range of motion and performance
  • Decrease the risk of injury

Most warm-up routines can take 10 to 30 minutes to complete, but Rivera says there is no one-size-fits-all routine. “The exercises and preparation should be customized to what movement they are about to go into. We each have a slightly different movement profile.” 

Rivera notes that static stretching is not an effective warm-up. Instead, he recommends concentration on pillar (the region between the shoulders and the hips) stability, followed by mobility exercises. Movements originate from that area and energy is transferred to the rest of the body. If they are not ready to go, not only will there be a lack or decrease of performance, but athletes are more likely to be injured,” Rivera notes.

Key pillar movements should include the following areas to avoid tears or other injuries:

  • Torso
  • Spine
  • Hips
  • Shoulders

Warm-ups should also include integrated movements that start with a simple version of the movements the children are about to do, and then progress into more complex motions. The warm-up should be specific to the activity and the needs of the child, including age, fitness level and endurance.

Cooling down basics

Cooling down is just as important as the warm-up, and should be a gradual return to baseline activity. Rivera notes it can take anywhere between five to 30 minutes for the heart rate and sweating to decrease.

“Static stretching should be part of the cool down, but it’s not enough. The focus should be on slowing down, working on mobility again and extending the soft tissues,” Rivera advises.

Children should focus on stretching many of the same muscles that they used during sport or play. This helps circulate blood and flush lactic acid that may occur during an intense workout, sport or playtime for younger children. Flushing lactic acid buildup decreases the chances of muscle fatigue and soreness.

How to find the right exercises

Many young athletes struggle to identify the right exercises for proper warming up and cooling down. Rivera suggests consulting a physician, trainer or sports performance expert. They help guide and find the right balance between the amount and type of movements.

“It’s not just about one type of exercise, especially for younger children,” Rivera explains. “Sports performance and injury prevention is about ensuring that children have adequate mobility, stability and strength.”

Rivera says that encouraging your young athlete to make warming up and cooling down a permanent part of their routine will help keep play fun, decrease risk of injury and improve overall performance for years to come.

Learn more

Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine is the only institute of its kind in North Texas, with the goal of helping young athletes stay strong no matter the season. Our experts can help identify best warm up and cool down practices.

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