Runners: Why failing to prepare is preparing to fail
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
OK, class, hands up. Who performs a thorough warm-up before going for a run? I would put good money on this number being less than 50 percent, maybe even as low as 25 percent. And, no, a slow first mile doesn't count.
There are numerous reasons why runners often don't take the time to warm up properly before they set off. These may include time constraints, confusion over what they should be doing, or a feeling that they just don't need to warm up.
But all three of these reasons aren't valid excuses, and I'm going to explain just why you should make the time for and put in the effort to warm up prerun.
The structure of a warm-up has changed over the last 10 years or so. Previously, a gentle jog, skip or walk followed by some static stretches was enough, but this is now something of a no-no.
In fact, runners and all forms of athletes are warned against performing static stretches as part of a warm-up routine. This is due to links with both an increased injury rate and a reduction in muscle performance immediately after static stretches.
Most of this research on the negative effects of static stretching were linked to stretches held for 60 seconds or more (anyone hold them that long in practice? I know I don't), but I do believe that the alternative dynamic stretches are a better preparation for the body.
Dynamic stretching is a process of warming a muscle up by taking it through its full range of motion, in a controlled and gradual manner, mimicking the movements to be performed during the activity we are preparing for. Examples may include lunges, high kicks, leg swings, walking sumo squats, etc. The list really is endless and can be adapted to suit the individual and sport.
Not only do these movements stretch the muscles in a more functional manner than static stretches, but they also help improve neuromuscular coordination and core stability — both vital components for runners to master to improve performance and avoid injury.
Why warm up?
OK, so dynamic stretching it is. But that still doesn't really explain why you need to warm up at all, right? You've been fine up until now, so why change?
The most common reason given for warming up is to prevent injuries like muscle strains. But your slow first mile seems to do the trick with this, so why bother getting up an extra 10 minutes early? Well, consider this:
Every year, somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of runners suffer an injury. These injuries are rarely traumatic injuries like pulled muscles or torn achilles tendons. They tend to be the overuse type of injury caused by repetitive loading with poor form and fatigue.
Performing a dynamic warm-up prior to your run helps to prepare your neuromuscular system and develop its abilities, just as running develops the abilities of your cardiovascular system.
Training the neuromuscular system (brain and muscles) in this way before a run helps to "switch on" the connection between the brain and the muscles in preparation for running. This helps to promote a more efficient, safe and effective running form, thus reducing the injury risk. Neuromuscular fitness is often overlooked, but this ability to control your muscles and movement patterns can have a significant impact on maintaining good form and resisting fatigue.
For example, a dynamic warm-up can help with "switching on" the glutes — often inactive due to long periods in a seated position. More contribution from the glutes leads to an all-out better running form. The glutes are really the powerhouse of the running cycle. If these aren't functioning properly, you have to rely on other muscles in the legs to work even harder. After a while, injury will occur.
On top of the injury-prevention benefits, the other main benefit of a warm-up is performance based. Ever tried running a tempo run or a race with no warm-up and at your designated pace from the start? Did you find it tough and burnout after the first couple of miles? Most people do.
What happens here in simple terms is that you start running with a resting heart rate and your oxygen requirements of the now hard-working muscles suddenly skyrocket before your heart and lungs can catch up, leaving you with an oxygen deficit.
A warm-up will help prevent this by getting the heart pumping and blood circulating oxygen to the muscles before you start your run. This way you can start the run with a good oxygen supply and maintain that throughout.
Example warm-up routine
So now you're sold on the idea of a dynamic warm-up, but how do you do it?
There are so many different exercises that can be used as part of a dynamic warm-up and which ones you choose can be a personal thing based on your own weaknesses and preferences.
Most recommendations start with something to get the heart pumping and body moving gently initially. This phase is less important when followed by dynamic stretching rather than static as the dynamic exercises will get the heart rate up anyway.
If you decide not to do a pulse-raiser first, ensure you start gently with the dynamic exercises — small, shallow and slow movements that can be gradually developed and quickened as the muscle temperature and flexibility increases.
Skipping (without a rope — like a child on the playground) is a great starting point for dynamic stretching. It is also a good pulse-raiser and gets the calf muscles warmed up. You can start with a simple skip and then increase the push-off phase to spring higher and add in arm reaches above and in front of you.
Another classic is the grapevine or carioca. This is a sideways run where one leg crosses in front of and then behind the other. If you're short of space, consider mountain climbers for a great pulse raiser you could do in your living room.
Walking lunges, both forward and backward are great for runners as they are pretty functional and really serve to awaken the hamstrings, quads and glutes. Start shallow and work deeper, always in control and with good form. Walking sumo squats are also a great exercise and work more laterally to get the hip abductors and adductors involved.
Leg swings are a great way to loosen everything up prerun. Kick the leg out in front and then let it swing behind you to stretch out the hamstrings and the hip flexors. Gradually work the leg up higher. There should be some momentum to it (like a pendulum), but don't go out of control.
You can also do this for the groin and outer hip muscles by swinging the leg from side to side just in front of the body. Doing this without holding onto anything (if possible) will also aid in switching on the core muscles to stabilize the body.
As the pelvis is so important in running form and a lack of pelvic control so often a contributor to injury, I would also recommend exercises to help develop awareness of pelvic positioning.
This can be done on all fours and ensuring the pelvis is neutral (not arched or tucked), perform superman exercises (raising one leg and the opposite arm) while maintaining a static pelvis. In the same position, a hip abduction and external rotation movement to cock one leg at a time out to the side is great for core and pelvis stabilization as well as gluteus medius activation.
Overall, a sufficient dynamic warm-up should take you around 8-10 minutes. After which you should feel warm and limber with blood and adrenaline pumping, ready to start your run.
- Best exercises for gluteus medius strengthening
- Pectoralis minor: Far from a minor problem
- The importance of hip internal rotation
- The top 5 exercises you should be doing
- Trails for two-wheelers: A look at the United States Bicycle Route System
- Tight calf muscles: The Achilles’ heel of new runners
- Advice to high school athletes from a former Texas Longhorn
- Everything you always wanted to know about blood doping and EPO
- How to power up the consent agenda
- A new era for Salt Lake City International Airport
- Churches, ‘COMM’centrate on 6 things
- How has COVID-19 affected crime?
- How to build an eco-friendly, sustainable brand through green tech
See your work in future editions
Your content, Your Expertise,
Your Industry Needs YOUR Expert Voice & We've got the platform you needFind Out How