Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Most people I know who get out for a run don't consider a warm-up or a warm-down. Does this mean that they are doing the wrong thing, or are they managing their time better or are they missing out on two very valuable components to your training run? In all honesty, I think it is the latter. As an athlete, I know many times I got out for a run without even considering a warm-up or a stretch and generally, a warm-down consisted of some light core, and that was it. Thorough warm-up and cool downs were reserved for pre and post track session. As I got older, I realised the importance of a proper warm-up for the preparation of a run. The importance of a warm-down to start the process of returning to baseline and so I can get ready for my next training session. As a coach the warm-up serves as a vital tool, it allows me to see how my athletes are moving, whether they are a little stiff or sore, or if they have recovered from their last run or session. It is also an essential tool for both the athlete and coach to prepare both mentally and physically for the upcoming session.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete, every run or session should compose of a warm-up, a run or session and a warm-down. If I lived in an ideal world, this is what my Warm-Up would look like:
1. Training Briefing (5mins)
2. Thermoregulation (No more than 20mins)
2.1. 10-15mins of easy jogging or 2-5mins of skipping
3. Activate and Mobilise (10-15mins)
3.1. Soft Tissue Work – Foam Rolling
3.2. Mobilisation – Ankle Complex, Hip Complex and Thoracic Spine
3.3. Activation work – glutes and torso
4. Movement Screening (10-20mins)
4.1. Dynamic Flexibility
4.2. Sprinting Drills
4.3. Corrections – Any corrective exercises needed
5. Strides (5-10mins)
5.1. 4x60m in flats on Grass
5.2. 4x80m Accelerations in Spikes
Total Time 70mins
While 70mins seems excessive, this is what a typical middle distance session warm-up should look like. This, in its self, would be fatiguing for your typical beginner. However, for a seasoned athlete, it would be quite easy. Please note that I title my dynamic flexibility and sprinting drills as a Movement Screen. While it isn't a graded or measured movement screen as the coach I eyeball the athletes' movements, I should be able to identify what is normal for them, or more importantly what is not normal for them. The athletes themselves should know if something feels out of order. This does take a bit of practice and coaching on the coaches behalf to help the athlete become in tune with their own movement.
That looks like a lot to take in, but my tips for beginners are quite simple, I have also listed a few sample Warm-Ups below. Choose exercises that are more bang for your buck. 1 min of Skipping or Jumping Jacks is an easy pick for your thermoregulation. For Activation and Mobilisation use a foam roller to target either your tight or sore spots. Pick 2 or 3 mobility exercise that hit a few different places. Like I stated in the Beginning Running: The Right Way I would aim for the Worlds Greatest Stretch, The Bretzel Stretch and the Knee to Wall Stretch. Follows this with a couple of drills, the oldies but the goodies, High Knees, Butt Kicks and Side to Sides after which you are ready to roll. This whole process shouldn't take much more than 15minute, but you are prepared well enough to reduce your risk of injury and hopefully soreness. Another quick warm-up is the Lunge Matrix by Gary Gray. A pretty simple set of 10 standing lunges forward, reverse and lateral, hits all planes of movement and takes 5mins.
The warm-down is an all too often overlooked component of training, and especially with beginner and recreational runners. I thoroughly believe that the Warm-Down can play an integral role for extra conditioning, in regards to hitting some strength work but also some low amplitude plyometrics. Most importantly, it is your first point of recovery. The key is to start returning the body to its resting state. That means if necessary, hitting your recovery foods and drinks before starting the central part of your warm-down.
A typical Warm-Down should consist of the following;
1. Short Sprint Work (10-20mins)
1.1. Sprint Drills
1.2. Short Sprints or Diagonals
2. Strength Work (15mins)
3. Warm Down Jog (10-20mins)
4. Neural Recovery and Reducing Muscle Tone (20mins)
4.1. Foam Rolling (Long Sweeps – Big Muscle Groups)
4.2. Static Stretching
5. Post-Training Debrief (5mins)
Total Time: 80mins
As you can see here, the Warm-Down can take longer than the Warm-Up. In comparison, this may not seem right that you are spending over an hour for your Warm-Down. It is essential to realise that while your Warm-Up is preparing you for the upcoming session, the Warm-Down is getting you set not only for what you are going to be doing the next day but also for your next hard session or your next race. Therefore it is just as valuable, if not more so.
As a beginner, and only going for a few runs per week this type of Warm-Down is not necessary, but it is an excellent opportunity to get a few extras in so you feel better for your next run. Priorities for the beginner would be some form of strength work. You might include a short body-weight circuit, a Kettlebell circuit and some core work. Doing 15mins of Strength post-run will boost your Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) which means you will be increasing calorie consumption and the duration you continue to burn those calories. After a few weeks of completing this strength work, you will have started to build a nice amount of lean muscle. You will be more durable and hopefully maintain a higher running workload.
Follow this up with 10-15mins worth of foam rolling and mobility you should be feeling raring to go for your next run. When you do your foam rolling hit the larger muscle groups with at least 10 long sweeps before moving on. You don't need to target specific sore or tight spots because they will be under a bit of distress anyway. So the longer sweeps will start to reset your muscle tone in those groups. With the mobility work in this time frame, it needs to be light and not too distressing, and it is an ok time to do some light static stretching. I would target the calves, quads, hammies, glutes and lower back for a couple of minutes each and that should be sufficient.
Anything more than this should be set to either a specific strength session or particular mobility session. Please feel free to borrow the above samples, they are there to be used, most exercises can be found on google or YouTube.
I hope this little bit of guidance will help you improve your overall running time, or help you feel much more recovered for your next run.
Yours In running,