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Warm ups & Cool Downs

Hey fitness fanatics! Today we have a very important topic to talk about! I would like you to answer a question for me first… Do you warm your dog up before a walk, training, competition or conditioning? I’m really hoping the answer to that question is a yes, but I do know a lot of people when they first come to see me for a 1-2-1 have never been introduced to warm ups and cool downs.

Let's talk a little bit more about why those warm ups are important.

The reason we warm up before any strenuous activity is to prepare our dogs both physically and mentally for the activity. We want to increase the dog's blood flow to allow more oxygen to reach their muscles, and we do this by increasing their heart rate. It can help to improve the efficiency of movement which is very important in canine athletes, but also in our pet dogs too.

corgi and terrier running on a track

We want to increase body and muscle temperature, so a good warm-up is essential, it’s especially helpful to your muscles. We have already mentioned that we want to allow more oxygen to reach the muscles, and as your dog's muscle temperature increases, oxygen becomes more available to their muscles. This is important because it makes it easier for the muscles to contract and relax. Don’t forget you can overwork your heart muscle too! Warming your heart up ready for more strenuous exercise is essential.

A big point we always talk about is also that with a warm up you can help to reduce the risk of injury. A lot of injuries we see are in the first parts of exercise when a dog isn’t sufficiently warmed up, and then also when a dog is fatigued and being pushed past their limits. Not warming dogs up has a big part to play in those dogs that are injured in the early stages of the exercise. Warming your dog up helps to improve their muscle elasticity as well as enchanting the amount of oxygen to the muscles. The increased circulation also helps with something else, and that is taking the waste products away which are produced during exercise. There is actually research where a study was performed with rabbits and they found that when warm ups are performed before exercise a greater length of stretch and force is then required to produce a tear in the muscle. It is safe to take away from this that warming up does provide some protection against injury.

nova scotia duck tolling retriever and golden labrador retriever running in a field

For your dog's body to function safely and efficiently they should have a full range of motion in their muscles and joints. Warming up helps increase that range of movement before exercise, therefore increasing the body's performance. It should also aid in protecting the joints as warming up muscles up enables them to absorb more strain and stress. And it actually also improved joint lubrication and movement within those joints too, offering them more protection from impact and injury.

We’ve spoken a lot about the physical aspects of a warm up, but let’s not forget the mental aspects too! I find that warm ups are really beneficial for helping to get the handler and dog in tune before activities. These warm ups start in a calmer manner so can help to get both you and your dog into a good headspace before your activity. Strengthen that connection with them before you go out and train or compete.

We ask so much of our dogs as canine athletes or workers so it’s our job as their owners or handler to make sure they are physically fit, able and ready for what they are about to do! But don’t let this become a myth that only sporting and working dogs need to warm up! We absolutely need to warm up our pet dogs before strenuous activities too! Fetch can be a high impact activity, long distance walks are hard on the body, as is swimming, playing rough with other dogs etc. our pet dogs do a lot that warrants a warm up too.

White swiss shepherd dog retrieving a toy after a warm up in canine conditioning

Most of you that have been following us for a while probably know by now that we give away our basic warm up guide for free. Why? Because we know just how Important it is that dogs are warmed up before exercise! A quick basic warm up is much better than no warm up at all, so we give this away for free. How can you get our basic warm up? By signing up to our subscriber's list on our canine fitness equipment shop When you sign up it will be sent out to you automatically!

BUT you must notice we use the word BASIC in there for a reason right?

So can we do more advanced warm ups?

The answer is, of course we can!

What do we think about when planning advanced warm ups?

Well first off I want to say we never use passive stretching where we stretch the dog's limbs for them. Actually, this is for all warm ups not just advanced warm ups. This can be damaging to performance. However, what we can do is use what we like to call muscle activation exercises to warm up the muscles in a gentle manner. These are where the dog performs the exercises unaided by us (other than with a lure or cue etc.). We never use any balance equipment when warming up, these exercises should all be performed on the ground. Some people think that because their dog is more advanced in a sport, they should bring in balance equipment for their warm ups before their sports, but this is not something we recommend. I mean think about it, we ask you to use groundwork exercises to warm up your dogs before using any balance equipment, so why would we then ask you to use balance equipment in a warm up? We don’t want to fatigue the muscles with this warm up, we only want to warm them up and prep them for exercise.

Australian shepherd dog running off lead after a warm up

When we say advance warm up all we really mean is making that warm up specific to the activity that your dog is doing. It’s no longer just a basic warmup, we think a little bit more in depth about their activity and the movements and things we do in their activity which we will talk about more now.

A few of the things we do take into consideration for advanced warm ups are:

  • What exercise is the dog doing?

  • Are they doing a specific sport?

  • What muscles are used during this exercise?

  • Can we mimic the movements they will be doing?

  • If not, how can we activate those muscles being used?

If you’re part of our app and private Facebook group we talked through this a bit more in depth recently, and we have already given our more specific warm ups for a number of sports such as agility, flyball, herding and obedience. If you’re not part of our app you can follow the links in the description to find out more about that.

A question that I get asked a lot is when can I perform the warmup, so how long before the exercise do I need to do the warmup and how long can I leave it after doing the warmup before we actually do our exercise? We recommend that you need to leave at least five minutes after your warm up before doing your activity, whatever you’re doing whether that’s Agility, whether that’s, canicross, obedience, dock diving, flyball etc. You need to leave 5 minutes after your warm up before you start your exercise. We then recommend that you leave no more than 15 minutes after your warmup before you start your exercise. So let’s say you’re at an agility show, you can’t just warm them up then expect to be able to pop them back in the van and leave them there for half an hour before you’re doing your run. You would need to make sure you warm them up and then we recommend that you keep them moving a little bit between that warm up and actually doing their physical activity, otherwise you’re just allowing the muscles too much time to cool down and making that warm up almost pointless. So yes if you had multiple runs at an agility show throughout the day you would need to make sure that you warm up before each run if there is a significant amount of time between each run. A single warmup at the start of the day will not cover you for the entire day if they have downtime between runs.

Something to avoid for 24 hours before any activity is passive stretching, as research has shown this can be detrimental to a human's performance for as long as 24 hours! Don’t forget that even though our structure may be different, our muscles behave in an extremely similar manner to dogs, so it is safe to assume we can apply this research across from humans to dogs. We currently do not have much research for dogs when it comes to a lot of things in the conditioning world, so we do have to extrapolate a lot from human research still.

We are also very passionate about making sure that you cool your dogs down properly.

So our cool-downs to look very similar to the warmup, we tend to encourage you to hold a little bit more duration in some of the exercises when you’re cooling down. Again our basic cool down is provided when you sign up to our mailing list.

a black and white terrier cross dog face up close cooling down after exercise

Always cool down after activity to gradually reduce their heart rate. This promotes arterial circulation and aids with the removal of metabolic waste. It also rebalances oxygenation in muscle cells following exercise.

We always like to start with walking on a loose lead – or as close as you can get! - this reduces lactic acid and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Lactic acid is produced through anaerobic exercise, which is where energy is generated without oxygen. Walking requires the muscles to contract and relax which helps to flush the lactic acid away. Warming down helps to remove adhesions (micro injuries) to tissue around the muscles. It also aids in Maintaining joint health, allowing the muscles to lengthen back out as they shorten during exercise as they tense, this also helps to Improve muscle tone and quality.

I aim for both warm ups and cool downs to last from 5-10 minutes. No more than 10 minutes as there is research to show that more than 10 mins can start to fatigue the muscles which would have a negative impact on performance. Again the research for the is pulled across from human research, but the best number of sets for a warm up is 2, and we aim for 3-5 reps of each exercise within our warmups. Personally I aim for 5-10 exercises depending on how long we want the warm up to be and what sport or exercise the dog is doing and also depending on the ability of the dog. We have to remember that some dogs will have a higher tolerance of exercise than others depending on things like how much conditioning they have done, how generally fit they are etc. So some will be able to bring in a few more exercises if I want to target more specific areas without hitting that point of fatigue.

I'm hoping you found this blog post useful! Don't forget to let us know in the comments if you warm your dog up, and if you cool them down after exercise too!

If you have any suggested topics you would like us to talk about please pop those in the comments too!

Thank you for reading!

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