Finding time to run is often tricky, due to hectic lifestyles. With time being so precious, it’s easy to neglect both warming up and cooling down. However, investing time to undertake both practices can reap rewards: increased performance, enjoyment and reduced injury risk.
Many people become disillusioned with running, as they believe they can’t do it. This is often because they have started too fast, failed to prepare properly and their body is not ready for the demands they are placing on it. Starting slowly and gradually increasing the demands you place on your body will mean you are more likely to enjoy your run, find it a little easier and even perform better, too.
“There are many reasons to warm up, whether you’re going for a simple run or competing in a race,” explains Matthew Fleet, senior lecturer in physical education at Southampton Solent University.
“These include improving the elasticity of ligaments and tendons, your range of movement, increasing the temperature of muscles, and improving the blood flow and amount of oxygen to the working muscles. All of which will help you to prevent injury, as well as enhancing your ability to perform, both physically and mentally.”
You should keep your warm-up simple and try to separate it into four stages. The first and most important stage is raising your pulse and getting your blood flowing to the working muscles. “You can do this by going for a fast-paced walk or a light jog – not too fast, but fast enough to increase your breathing and heart rate,” says Fleet.
The second stage is dynamic stretches. These should focus on using your main leg muscles, arms and core. “It’s important to start gently and focus on technique,” says Fleet. “Begin with simple lunges, focusing on gradually increasing your range of motion and making sure you keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back, relaxed and your chin up.”
Step forwards with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent to form a 90-degree angle. “Attempt to do five on each leg,” suggests Fleet. “Then move on to skipping, focusing on increasing both distance and height (including butt kicks, to stretch out your quads).”
Make sure you’re not experiencing any pain and avoid holding onto anything, so you can engage your core. The third stage should be some practice activities, such as a series of accelerating shuttle runs.
Stage four is mental preparation. “Focus on relaxing, finding a pace and [remembering] any strategies, if you’re about to undertake a race.”
By not warming up, you increase your risk of injury and won’t perform to your full potential. “It could cost you time later, with a decreased performance, or having to take time to recover from injury,” reminds Fleet.
Warm muscles are efficient, pliable and less likely to tear. A thorough warm-up is extra important due to our increasingly modern sedentary behaviours, such as being seated at a desk.
If you’re really stuck for time and only have five minutes, make sure you increase your heart and breathing rates by undertaking some lunges, butt kicks, high knees and simple acceleration runs.
“I have made the mistake of not warming up effectively for an Ironman event, where I cramped up during the swim,” says Fleet. “This cramp plagued me for the next 10.5 hours and I ended up not finishing the event, wasting nine months of training. Even a simple five- minute warm-up can save a lot of time and an awful lot of heartache!”