Take a research-based approach to warming up before runs.
While most triathletes know they should warm up before running workouts, many don’t know exactly how to carry out that warm-up. Should you just jog around for a few minutes? Maybe throw in some drills? Will stretching loosen up your legs? These are all common questions that highlight the fact that warming up isn’t as simple as it may seem.
Perhaps the biggest mistake many runners make is that they lack a strategic approach to warming up. Whether you’re cutting your warm-up short or you’re not focusing on doing the right things to prepare your body for hard running, the consequences can include time on the bench.
“I would agree the warm-up is severely underutilized with our adult athletes and probably is our biggest protectant against injury,” says Cari Setzler,
a USATF-certified coach based near Chicago.
Fortunately, there is plenty of research out there to help guide runners in establishing best practices for warming up. By employing some of these tactics, you’ll get more bang for your buck out of the warm-up itself, but also hard workouts and races.
Prime your legs
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes runners make is jogging around aimlessly for a few minutes before a workout and calling it a warm-up. Since warming up is all about getting your legs ready for hard running, this approach isn’t all that useful.
Research out of the Sports Performance Research Institute in New Zealand discovered that doing warm-up strides with a weighted vest improved peak running performance in a subsequent workout. While many endurance coaches may shy away from the idea of using a weighted vest, these results highlight the importance of “priming” the legs for harder running during the warm-up.
“I recommend that runners include a warm-up that progressively increases range of motion and intensity before their workouts or competition,” says Brian Hand, a Denver-based exercise physiologist and running coach. “Resistance and/or intensity allows for greater and more effective muscle recruitment, which can help facilitate better running posture, more coordinated movement and greater force and power production to improve running performance.”
Ramp up the intensity
Similar research has shown that adding in some high-intensity running in your warm-up can have a positive effect on running performance. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, researchers found that 800-meter time trials improved when runners warmed up with a 10-minute jog followed by 2×50-meter strides and a continuous all-out 200-meter sprint.
“Speedwork and drills can help ready a runner for competition, if done properly, because they can begin to get the transverse abdominus and other core muscles engaged, which can facilitate respiration and proper running mechanics,” Hand explains.
While many athletes save the hard running for the workout itself, this research demonstrates the importance of getting in some fast bouts prior. Just be sure to jog first to start warming up your muscles before any explosive exercises.
Be more dynamic
While static stretching is great after a workout, there is plenty of evidence to show that it should be avoided at all costs preceding hard running. One study demonstrated that static stretching prior to running hindered performance; however, researchers also discovered that dynamic stretching did not.
Dynamic stretching, also known as plyometrics, can include everything from leg swings to high knees or skipping, depending on your routine and workout. Including dynamic stretching in your warm-up helps loosen up your legs for high-intensity running.
“Warming up increases viscosity and range of motion of joints and gradually increases stretch in muscles and tendons,” Setzler says.
Hand also says that plyometrics can help ingrain proper form for increased running efficiency. “Plyometrics can be beneficial to facilitate increased muscle fiber activation prior to a race or hard workout and will also help get the core muscles engaged to improve running mechanics, helping to better coordinate movement, improve balance and help facilitate greater force production during a race or hard workout,” he says.