Warming up and cooling down are essential to ensure your body is ready to run and recovers well. Here, physiotherapist Paul Hobrough explains how it should be done correctly.
WHY WARM UP?
This is a question I am often asked as a physiotherapist. What we think is that warming up reduces muscle injury and stiffness – it gets you ready to run. Unfortunately, a high percentage of people walk out of their front door and straight into the activity itself, jogging for 30 seconds (if that) as a warm-up, running, then returning home for a rushed shower.
This approach is false economy – you save time on that given day, but you may lose many weeks through injury further down the line. And a good warm-up need take only minutes to complete.
HOW TO DO A FULL WARM-UP
Stage 1: Start with 5-10 minutes of gentle exercise such as a light jog, some indoor cycling or time on a cross trainer. This will increase blood flow, body temperature and therefore local muscle temperature. This phase of the warm-up will also increase your heart rate gently, preparing you for the run ahead and also for the mobility phase of the warm-up.
Stage 2: Your next aim is to develop muscle length, which you can achieve through dynamic stretching – moving exercises such as high knee running, heel-to-bum flicks, side stepping and cross overs. All of these will gradually increase the length of muscle through movement.
HOW TO COOL DOWN
So many runners neglect this phase of their workout, but it is as important for your cardiovascular system as it is for your muscles themselves. Ideally, you should gradually cool down over five minutes as a minimum, allowing your heart rate to drop gently. After this, some static stretching can be a real benefit, but not performed aggressively.
See it as a chance to restore your range of movement rather than as a time for improving overall flexibility. Regular
stretching throughout the day is also a good idea and a great opportunity to hold stretches for longer, with the aim of developing muscle length.
STRETCHING THE TRUTH?
A lot of potential myths abound about stretching. There has been some research to show that some runners – mostly elite sprinters – had a loss of performance directly following static stretching, but none of the runners tested had any loss in performance after dynamic, moving stretches. That’s why I advocate those during your warm-up.
That said, static stretching still has its place in a runner’s lifestyle. No study suggests in any way that a runner should abandon stretching. And it is extremely unlikely that going for a training run will be negatively affected by a few static stretches if that’s the way you prefer to prepare.
If you are currently injured, or are prone to injuries, then it’s highly likely that you have a chronic muscle shortening that needs specific attention. For you, lots of stretching to improve muscle length before a training run is not only fine, it’s important for a full return to fitness.
ON RACE DAY
Try to stick to your normal warm-up routine as closely as possible. There may be obstacles in your way in terms of timing and space on the start line, but you should be able to perform a light jog and some dynamic stretches before you get going. Keep warm with some extra clothing that can be discarded just before the gun goes.