Runners, who’s guilty of lacing up their sneakers and heading out the door without warming up and stretching? I certainly have been guilty of it. Here’s something you need to know: the most important outcome of your training, your race, or your goals depends on one thing—remaining injury-free.
One of the most important and simplest ways to accomplish this is to ALWAYS do a warm up before your run and a cooldown afterward.
When we run, we place an incredible amount of force through our joints, bones, and tendons—three times our body weight, to be exact. That’s a lot of pounding force. Therefore, a quick warm-up to prepare our joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons for these incredible amounts of stress is beneficial. The warm-up will also get the blood flowing to these areas and ultimately prevent ‘shocking’ them. Believe me, your Achilles tendons will thank you later.
Your warm-up doesn’t have to be long. It takes as little as five minutes to prevent an injury. (Try fifteen minutes for a more extensive warm-up.) The warm-up should be dynamic (not static). This means you won’t be standing and holding a stretch position, but instead, you’ll be moving and stretching at the same time. The dynamic warm-up is more effective because it mimics the movements and activates the muscles you’ll be using while you run. Primarily, you want to warm up your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
There are many ways to accomplish this. I’ve provided the following examples of dynamic exercises that I’ve found effective to get you started:
- Forward alternating lunges, 10x
- Reverse alternating lunges, 10x
- Squats, 10x
- Hip swings, (side and forward), 10x
- Calf raises, 10x
- Bird dips, 10x
This warm-up can be completed in about five minutes or extended to fifteen, time permitting. It’s beneficial to complete prior to your trail run, road run, race, or treadmill run.
Can a slow jog be considered a warm-up prior to your run? Certainly. Make sure the warm-up jog is indeed a much slower pace than the intended run, and keep it brief (e.g., 400 – 800 meters, 1 – 2 laps around a track).
Remember, the cooldown is also important to keeping injury-free. It should be a part of every run as well. After completing your run, try walking anywhere from a quarter mile (e.g., one loop around a track) to half a mile, depending on how long your run was. This will return your heart rate to a resting rate and also allow your muscles to relax. This is where ‘static’ stretching can be executed (e.g., standing and holding a stretch position for 30 seconds, 2x). I personally follow my training runs with calf stretches, hamstring stretching, and ITB and quad stretches.
If you initiate a regular warm-up and cooldown routine, you’ll be effectively decreasing your chances of injury and will therefore have a much better chance of reaching your running goals. Not a bad payoff with adding only an additional 5 – 10 minutes to your routine!