Do this before you start reading this article. Take a rubber band and put it in the refrigerator. Take it out after sometime and stretch it. What happens? Hell yeah it will break. That’s how our muscles are in a cold or ‘freshly out of bed‘ state. They get injured when not warmed up.
Warm up sometimes seems to be most underrated. I got punished in past for not performing this 5-10 minutes ritual. The routine seems so boring and tedious especially when in the morning, we purposefully pull ourselves out of the warm and cozy bed to churn out miles outside or in the evening, after work when we are dog tired. Don’t you agree?
Benefits of warm up
1. It raises core body temperature. The movement performed in the warm up increases blood circulation and prepares the muscles for the impending workout.
2. It readies the heart as it raises resting heart rate. Warm up prevents the heart from getting surprised by sudden demand of oxygen and promotes a healthy cardiovascular functioning.
3. It is like an ‘on‘ switch for the mind as the neurotransmitters are fired up on performing the warm up routine and makes the body alert. It is an opportunity for the brain to establish connection with the muscles.
4. Warm up helps in loosening the joints and muscles like hips, quads, hamstring, calves, lower back, neck etc used for running thus, helping to maintain an efficient form.
5. According to American College of Sports Medicine, warm up prepares muscles for the types of activities which causes damage and may prevent DOMS(delayed onset muscle soreness). However, there are no concrete evidence. But still it may help. Why take a chance?
6. The bottomline is that warm up prevents injuries. That’s it. Endless studies have proved so no need to argue with me!
According to Competitor.com, warm up is necessary to be performed before a race or a high intensity workout which tests body’s ability to withstand stress. It is not necessary to perform any before an easy run. And I agree with them.
Which is better : Dynamic or Static warm up
According to Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, dynamic warm up which includes slow running, stretching, sprinting and bounding improve muscle activation as compared to static warm up of slow running and stretching. Thus, dynamic warm up prepares the body better to withstand the forces of running than static warm up. So, you now know which one to do before you start pounding the pavement or the trail.
Exercises for warm up
Warm up here will be referred to as dynamic warm up. In simple words, dynamic warm up kick starts the brain and body coordination and alerts the muscles. I follow religiously the following warm up exercises before running.
Suryanamaskars or Sun Salutation is a 12 step yoga asana which exercises the whole body from head to toe. It is actually a combination of various exercises. I perform this series of poses in the morning before running. It helps me open up the body and awakens the senses before I hit the road.
I will generally do 10 of them and by the end will start sweating a bit. It is an incredible move to dynamically warm up the body. Each pose in this movement is held just for a couple of seconds, making it an ideal exercise to gradually raise the heart rate.
For a runner, this move is the best lower body exercise for strengthening and as well as for warm up. This move fires up the glutes – the muscle mostly used to run. This exercise also helps activate and wake up the core. This move is necessary to prevent a host of injuries like hip pain, runner’s knees, ITBS and to some extent, Plantar Fasciitis.
I am a huge fan of Coach Jay Johnson’s version of Gary Gray’s, Physical therapist, lunge matrix. This set of lunges fires up the glutes by moving in all the directions. I perform 2 sets of 5 lunges per leg in each direction.
3. Leg swing
The leg swings are both frontal and lateral. The frontal leg wings help open up the glutes and hamstrings whereas lateral ones help open up the groin and inner thigh muscles. I do 2 sets of 5-6 swings of each type per leg.
Hold a stationary and stable object like a table or a pole at waist height. Then start swinging the leg to and fro from front to back and then from left to right and then change leg.
4. Walking toe touch
So, static stretching is not useful in activating your muscles. Therefore, I have combined static toe touch with a dynamic move. Walk a step – stop – spread legs shoulder width apart – bend down and touch your toes and come back up. Then again take a step and repeat for 8-10 times. You can vary the position of your toes like keeping it alternatively inwards or outwards to give a little stretch to different angles of hamstring and inner thigh muscles.
5. High leg march
Like the Russians do their march past with legs thrown higher than the belt height, while keeping the knees locked, is an excellent way to dynamically activate the hamstrings and glutes. With this move try and touch your toe with alternate hand. For eg, when you throw your right leg up, then try and touch it’s toe with your left hand and so on. As you get a hang of this move, add bounding or skipping motion to it.
6. Butt kicks and high knee
Another move to dynamically activate the quads, glutes and raise the heart rate. Run with very short steps for 10-20 metres and try and kick your butt with the heels. Next run back the same distance and lift knees to waist level.
7. Slow running
After you perform the above moves, it is time now to hit the road. Run slow at around 60-70% of MHR(max heart rate). Run approximately a kilometre or two or more, if you feel the need. You may also do this slow running before the above moves.
In case you are doing just a recovery run, then slow running may qualify as warm up. You may not perform the above moves.
Strides is the finishing move of warm up. Strides will finally prepare your body and mind for the race pace or interval workout. Include 3-4, 20 seconds strides at race pace or pace which you are targeting to run on during the workout. In between, walk or jog for 20-30 seconds.
This whole combination of moves except slow running should not take more than 10 minutes. Do keep in mind, in case you are short on time skipping warm up, especially in the morning, is not advisable because ignoring it can be a invitation to injury. Cut short your main workout if need be. Also you can check out this article to monitor your heart rate during warm up while using a HRM.
That’s all the moves I do in my warm up routine. I am, now, quite stubborn on doing them after getting injured a number of times. Make your own set of exercises for warm up but I will say the above moves are the most essential ones to warm up properly before running.
By the way, as we grow older, we take longer to warm up because of the decreasing muscular strength and elasticity. I have realised this fact for sure. When I was a young brat, just shaking my hands and legs used to be enough and now even this 10 minute routine gets stretched sometimes.
Till then stay fit and keep running.
Is there any other exercise you include in your warm up?
How long is your warm up or do you almost always skip it?
1. Image - Google.
2. American College of Sports Medicine.
3. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.