Running is a demanding activity and that it’s important to prepare for each run, physically and mentally. This is what a ‘warm-up’ is all about. It gives your heart, lungs, muscles and joints a chance to get primed for the activity to come.
Equally post-run, you don’t want to stop suddenly and dive back on the sofa. The purpose of a cool-down is to gradually return the body to a resting state. Then, once you’ve finished your run, you need to stretch out the muscles, to counteract the repetitive shortening actions involved in running.
These procedures are not just an optional add-on to running, they are essential in getting the most out of your running experience and minimizing your risk of injury.
So make sure that when you schedule a run, you allow time to warm up, cool down, and stretch, too.
The Running Warm-Up
There are two primary objectives of a warmup, 1- raise body temperature and 2- raise the heart rate.
All the weird and wonderful chemical reactions that happen in the body to release energy for activity take place when the cells are at a specific temperature.
Muscles are more pliant and less liable to tear when they are warmer. The warm-up period also activates the neuromuscular pathways (the brain to body communication lines), so that your running is more coordinated and energy-efficient.
The first stage of the warm-up is to get your joints moving. Gently take each of the major joints (the neck, shoulders, spine, hips knees, and ankles) through its full range of motion — for example, roll the shoulders all the way around, bend and extend the knees fully, circle the ankles. This helps to lubricate the joint surfaces so that movement is more comfortable. keep everything very gentle and easy.
Next, to raise body temperature and heart rate, you need to perform some gentle aerobic activity for about five minutes. This could be a mix of brisk walking, marching on the spot, knee lifts and side-stepping, stair climbing, and very gentle jogging. If it’s cold and wet outside, it’s preferable to do your warm-up indoors. Finally, start your run at a slow jog, and gradually work up to your desired pace.
Once you’ve completed your run, slow down to a comfortable jog for a couple of minutes and then break into a walk. This gradual deceleration gives your body a chance to redirect blood from the working muscles so that you don’t end up feeling giddy or nauseous when you stop moving. It also helps to clear waste (the by-products of exercise) from the muscles, hastening their recovery and reducing the chances of feeling achy or stiff the following day. You can stop completely when your breathing and heart rate are well on their way back to normal — usually after 2 to 5 minutes.
It’s important to stretch to maintain your flexibility and suppleness, as running will make certain muscles shorter and tighter over time, hampering your performance and increasing the likelihood of you sustaining an injury. If you prefer, you can grab a quick shower first and put some comfy clothing on but don’t leave it for more than about 20 minutes, or your body temperature will have dropped too far. Hold each of the five stretches below for 20 to 30 seconds and aim to repeat each one twice, finishing with the lower back exercise. Breathe normally as you stretch and if you feel the muscle you are working ‘give’ a little, take the stretch a little further. It should be a sensation of lengthening, rather than of pain.
Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
- Lie flat on either the ground or a mat with the legs fully stretched out.
- To stretch the right leg, hold the back of the right knee with both hands, pull the leg up toward the chest, and slowly straighten the knee until it feels as though it is stretching.
- Hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds.
Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
- Stand tall with feet parallel and then lift your right heel, taking your right hand behind you to grab the foot.
- Bring the pelvis in to a neutral position (tuck the tailbone under) and gently press the foot into your hand, keeping the knee pointing downwards.
- Swap sides and repeat. Hold each side for 20-30 seconds
Hip Flexors (Front of the hip)
- Kneel on one leg and bend your other leg out in front of you, with that foot flat on the floor. …
- Keeping your back straight, slowly push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the upper thigh of your back leg and hip.
- Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2/3 times.
Calves (back of the lower leg)
- Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other, front knee slightly bent.
- Keep your back knee straight, your heel on the ground, and lean toward the wall.
- Feel the stretch all along the calf of your back leg.
- Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.
Hips and Glutes (bum and outside of thigh)
- Sit with legs outstretched.
- Cross your right foot over your left thigh and put the foot flat on the floor. Now take your left arm around the right knee and gently pull it around towards the shoulder (rather than hugging directly to chest), sitting up tall.
- Swap sides.
Cat Stretch (to stretch out the lower back)
- Kneel on all fours with hands below shoulders and knees below hips.
- Take a breath and as you exhale, carefully round your back like an angry cat, drawing up the abdominals and allowing the head to drop.
- Take a breath and then as you exhale, pass back through the neutral position into an arch, lengthening from crown to tailbone like a cat stretching.
- Round and arch slowly three to five times.