Proper Running Warm up… and Cool down
Warm up? C’mon! Let’s just get to the workout already! I know this sounds silly, but I also know that’s what most of us do on a regular basis, if not all the time. In this time crunched era where no one has a moment to spare, who has time to warm up? Our bodies will warm up as we go!
The truth is that most injuries happen within the first 6 minutes of a workout. Yes, this is not always the case, but I didn’t say “always”, I said “most,” and it depends on the intensity of the activity*.
“Ok, fine, I’ll throw in a few stretches,” you say, and off you’ll go. Well, new research has shown that static stretching “cold” muscles before exercise can actually lead to injury rather than prevent it. Some research actually says that static stretching “turns the muscle off” so to speak, before an activity. However, it is very effective for recovery purposes and injury prevention afterward.
So how do we get our body ready to exercise safely and effectively?
We use a Dynamic Warm Up. Yes, dynamic, meaning active, lively, vigorous, and purposeful! We bring our body from a resting state to a point of exercise readiness in a gradual manner using movements that stimulate the nervous system, and essentially heat, or warm up the muscles, and fully mobilize the joints and ligaments being used.
Benefits of a dynamic warm up include:
- Increased speed of contraction and relaxation of warmed muscles
- Dynamic exercises reduce muscle stiffness
- Greater economy of movement because of lowered viscous resistance within warmed muscles
- Facilitated oxygen utilization by warmed muscles because hemoglobin releases oxygen more readily at higher muscle temperatures
- Facilitated nerve transmission and muscle metabolism at higher temperatures; a specific warm up can facilitate motor unit recruitment required in subsequent “all out” activity
- Increased blood flow through active tissues as local vascular beds dilate, increasing metabolism and muscle temperatures
- Allows the heart rate get to a workable rate for beginning exercise
- Mentally focused on the training or competition
*Now, it’s important to note that shorter races or more intense workouts require a longer warm up than longer events or easy workout. If you remember, I said something earlier about injuries depending on the intensity of the activity; this is where that comes into play. If you don’t have a lot of time, it’s actually better to cut short your main set rather than cut short your warm up. You might even consider rescheduling the workout if you really have a small window of time.
Dynamic Warm Up Exercises:
Heel Walks: Walk forward with your foot flexed up so your toes and balls of your feet are off the ground. Activates anterior muscles of the leg and stretches calves.
Forward & Backward Arm Circles: Swing your arms in a forward circular motion one at a time, then alternate, then both together. When alternating, allow the hips to rotate freely and naturally. Next, swing your arms in a backward circular motion one at a time, then alternate, then both together. Again, make sure to allow the hips to rotate freely and naturally.
High Toe Walk: Walking normally, roll from the heel through the entire foot and toe off strongly, pushing the body upward and forward. Keep in contact with the ground, don’t skip.
Knee Grabs: Walking normally, raise one knee, grab your shin, and pull it in to your chest. Keep your body upright. Lower your leg as you walk and raise the opposite leg in the same manner.
Forward Leg Swings: Standing upright, swing one leg straight forward as high as you can safely do, and reach out with the opposite hand to your shin or foot. Then let the leg swing behind you. As your leg moves past your centerline, bend your knee as if you were going to begin kicking a ball. When you reach your extended limit, swing through to the front again, and repeat. Do 10-15 reps, and then switch legs. Activates hamstrings, glutes, quads, & hip flexors.
Side Leg Swings: Using a wall, fence, or partner for balance, swing one leg across the front of your body, and then back out to the side as far as you can safely do. Let your leg swing loosely using momentum to carry it from side to side. Do 10-15 reps, and then switch legs. Activates abductors and adductors.
High Knees: Using quick short steps with a forward body lean drive your knees upward as high as you can safely do.
Butt Kicks: Jogging slowly, raise one knee and flick your butt with your heel. Repeat this with the opposite leg and alternate for 10-15 steps. Make sure to lift your knee simultaneously, and not just flick your heel up behind you.
Carioca: Moving sideways with your arms extended alternately move your trailing leg across the front of the lead leg, and then behind the lead leg. Allow the hips to rotate freely as you move across the ground. Face one direction, and then return facing the same direction leading with the opposite leg.
Striders: Striders are shorts bursts of acceleration. After doing warm up drills begin jogging for about 3 minutes and then do some striders. The first one should be just a little faster than your warm up jog, then gradually increase your pace with each one. End with a pace just faster than your expected finishing or training pace. 4-10 striders should be sufficient. Walk back to the start of your strider for rest between each.
“Wow! What a great workout! I had an excellent warm up, and everything went according to plan. See you later…” Wait a minute! What about a cool down? “Excuse me? I gotta go!” Actually, a cool down is just as important as a warm up. It allows your body to return to a state of rest gradually, making it easier for the processes of restoration and adaptation to training to take place. An appropriate cool down will:
- aid in the dissipation of waste products – including lactic acid
- reduce the potential for DOMS – Delayed onset Muscle Soreness
- reduce the chances of dizziness or fainting caused by the pooling of venous blood at the extremities
- reduce the level of adrenaline in the blood
- allows the heart rate to return to its resting rate
After finishing your workout, take 5-10 minutes to do some easy jogging and walking to gradually reduce your heart rate, and then do some static stretching for recovery. It is important not to bounce or jerk the muscle being stretched. It must be a controlled slow movement. Make sure to hydrate, and try to stretch in a warm, dry location. As you stretch take long slow breaths to aid in relaxation.
Good Stretches include:
Gastrocnemius and Soleus: Stand leaning into a wall or fence. Extend one leg behind you and keep it straight with the heel on the ground and the opposite leg bent. Try to push down the wall keeping your heel down. Then bend the back leg still keeping the heel on the ground.
Supine Hamstring Stretch: Lying on your back, bend one leg keeping your foot on the ground. Lift the opposite leg as high as possible keeping it straight. You may hold the leg with your hands behind your knee, or use a towel or stretch strap to maintain the stretch.
Groin Stretch: Sitting down, bring the soles of your feet together with knees bent to the side. Grab your feet and try to bring your nose down to your toes. Then sit up and use your elbows to put slight pressure on your knees for the desired stretch.
Hip Flexor: Kneeling on one knee, tuck your butt under and lean forward toward your front supporting foot. Raise your arm on the side of the kneeling leg and reach over the top of your head. Be sure to keep the low back from arching.
Quad Stretch: Standing with your feet hip distance apart, bend one knee and grab your foot behind you. Bend your standing leg and bring your elevated knee behind you. Keep your body upright. You do not need to bring your heel to your butt.
There are many more stretches you can do. Stretching after running promotes increased performance, enhanced recovery, a more economical gait, and a prolonged running career.