Warming up the Right Way
The warmup is, regrettably, one of the most often ignored aspects of any training routine. And this is a problem that exists among most athletes, not just runners. But, why? For many, the issue is simply that they don’t truly understanding the benefits of a properly designed warmup. As a result, dedicating extra time to a warmup routine just doesn’t seem worth it.
In reality, though, the problem is not that warmups don’t work. Instead, the issue is that many people misunderstand how to properly use this valuable training tool and design a warmup that can work for their particular running style and fitness goals. So, what needs to change? How can you break this destructive cycle and warmup the right way?
Understanding The Basics
To fully grasp the principles behind proper warmup design, it’s important that we first clarify the exact purpose of the practice. Thankfully, the highly-descriptive name can help clear things up quite a bit. The warmup is meant, predictably, to warm you up.
Specifically, the goal of a well-designed warmup is to increase both your internal temperature as well the temperature of the muscles and connective tissue that will be doing the majority of the work during the coming exercise. This rise in temperature effectively increases the pliability of your muscles and range of motion of your joints, which, in turn, allows you to move freely and efficiently through your workout.
Through a very similar mechanism, a proper warmup routine also increases the blood flow to and from your working muscles. During your run, this means that your muscles will have ample oxygen and fuel while also not being bogged down by an overabundance of metabolic waste products.
Finally, your warmup primes your entire nervous system for the challenges that are yet to come. Nerve impulses travel faster through your system, giving you the gift of faster reaction times and stronger muscle contractions. Your mental focus is also enhanced, which not only increases your performance but also your enjoyment of the exercise.
So, yes. Warmups are very, very important. But, just like anything else, this tool still needs to be used properly. Precisely what this means, though, will depend on exactly what your workout or race entails.
The Built-In Warmup
Interestingly, all of the physiological changes that your body goes through during a warmup aren’t limited to just warmups. In reality, your body makes all these same adaptations during the first 10 minutes or so of your workout.
Which could be great. Or not.
For longer endurance-centric runs, in which those first 10 minutes won’t really have a large bearing on your overall performance, you might opt to skip a separate warmup. That’s up to you. This approach does save you energy, since you aren’t using any for your workout, but also means that you start your run cold.
When it comes to shorter events, however, this technique might not be the best option. Take the 5k race, for example. Most runners can knock this run out in well under 30 minutes. If you were to allow the first 10 minutes of that even to turn into a warm up, then, you’ve essentially just cheated yourself out of a third of the run. Instead, it makes better sense to take 10 minutes before starting your run and perform a separate warmup routine.
But what should your warmup look like? What exactly constitutes an effective and well-designed warmup? Well, that depends. Typically, the traditional recommendation is for your warm up to essentially be a slower, less intense version of your actual workout. So, for runners, this would basically represent a jog.
Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t exactly thorough and may not give you the most effective warm up possible. After all, jogging challenges a limited amount of muscles and only focuses on a specific range of motion. And all of this differs significantly from the demands of actually running. Instead, your warm up should involve a range of dynamic movements that utilize a variety of movement patterns and major muscle groups.
In addition to priming your metabolism and cardiovascular system, your warmup should include flexibility training. And while runners are often tempted to focus all of their attention on their legs, this is an incomplete strategy. Although your legs are definitely your prime movers, the muscles in your hips, abs and back are all impacted by your runs and involved in the movement. These muscles are often ignored and can tighten to the point of negatively impacting your performance.
A proper warmup, then, should include all of these muscles. Burpees and jumping jacks are both very effective ways of warming up all of the involved muscles and biological systems. From there, dynamic stretches like high kicks and lunges will effectively incorporate the necessary element of flexibility training.
Of course, you likely noticed that this information does not include a specific warmup. And this is very intentional. Your personal needs will vary based on your fitness level, training style and fitness goals. Still, these basic principles can be used to design an effective and useful warmup that is right for your runs.