Now that you’ve got your thumb on the pulse of your hip, knee, ankle, and foot mobility and motor control, it’s time to pull back and look at some of the physical practices you may or may not be doing that directly influence the quality and quantity of your running.
A quick review of our series to date:
Welcome to Standard #8:
Warming Up and Cooling Down
Think for a minute-especially you folks reading this indoors protected from temperatures that drive the birds to fly south but only inspire you to buy more clothes-about how you treat your car on a cold morning.
As you get in the car, you strap yourself into your seat with the seat belt, put the key in the ignition and start the engine, look around to make sure no one or no thing is in your way, then you gently steer your car out of its parking spot and onto the road. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s unlikely you’ll be testing the acceleration or top-speed capacities of your car in the first 5 to 10 minutes of your drive. Which is a good thing because we know your car lasts longer when you don’t push it to its limits right after you start it up.
Let’s apply the same approach you take in caring for your car to your warm up before you go on your run. A solid 5-10 minute warm up is all you need to warm up your muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nervous system to ensure you perform your best during your run.
I am not going to use this post to debate the merits of static (held) versus dynamic (movement-based) stretches. Rather, I want your warm-up to get you hot and sweaty and tuned in to move well during your run. If your warm-up isn’t getting you to that point before your run right now, you’re leaving a boatload of performance on the doorstep.
Here’s our general suggestions for warm up:
- Start with slow, controlled movements in place. Air Squats, forward and backward arm circles, stationary lunges, push-ups. Aim for 15-20 reps of each, really grease those joints, muscles, and movement patterns.
- Add some walking warm-ups. Some of our favorites for runners are Heel Walks, Toe Walks, Knee Hugs, Leg Cradles, Inverted Hamstrings, and Monster Walks. Aim for 10 reps (per-leg) of each.
- Prime the pump. Jump rope for 2-5 minutes is an excellent way to warm-up the muscle and joints of your lower legs and feet, knock out enough burpees to get you breathing hard, go through 2-4 minutes of our Tabata Squat protocol to flush your legs with blood flow.
Once you’re warm, get after it.
As you get to the end of your run, make sure you leave enough time for at least a 5-minute cool-down. Don’t go from full speed to stop. Your thought in mind at the end of your run should be “it’s time to start the recovery process.”
Let’s go back to the analogy bin and talk about cool-down in the context of horse racing. This passage came from the pages of Trainer Magazine, a publication focused on the training and development of racehorses:
“The aim of a cool-down period is a progressive reduction in exercise intensity allowing a gradual redistribution of blood flow, enhanced lactic acid removal from the muscles, and a reduction of body heat through convection and evaporation. If a horse is inadequately cooled after competing, any residual lactate in the system will affect performance if the horse is required to compete again within a short space of time. The application of cold water will result in heat loss by conduction from the skin to the water, thus reducing body temperature. The active cool-down will also result in an effective return to normal breathing and heart rate.”1
The cool down should be easy and simple:
- An easy 10-15 minutes on the rowing machine or on a bike around your neighborhood.
- Walking, barefoot if possible, for 5 minutes
- Some deep breathing practice for 2 to 5 minutes
- Some mobility exercises or basic body weight exercises like air squats, lunges, or arm swings.
If you think you don’t have time for warm-up or cooling-down, you’re missing the boat. Performance isn’t all about how hard you work. It is predicated on properly preparing your body to perform, then tending to it afterwards to ensure you can come back and do it again and again without breaking yourself. If you have to cut 5 minutes off of each end of your run to get in a brief warm-up and cool-down you’ll have done yourself more good in those 10 minutes of body maintenance practice than you would have in those extra 10 minutes of running.
One last note on warming up and cooling down: the length of your warm-up and cool down should match the intensity of your effort. If you’re going to run or train hard, you need longer than 5 minutes to warm-up and cool-down. 20 minutes on both ends would be a better goal to shoot for. If you’re simply going out for a LSD (Long Slow Distance) run on a fairly flat surface, you can warm-up and cool-down with 5 minute efforts on either side. Match your warm-ups and cool-downs to your level of effort and reap the rewards of your performance gains!
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