|Post race stretches are fine, less sure about the shorts!|
The question of 'warming up' is a tricky one for runners with a wide range of views on this. Runners, cyclists and other sporty types will debate the correct way to warm up, with everyone advocating a different approach.
In discussing the topic here, I am doing it from my own perspective. I have tried different approaches and have settled down to my own routine which seems to work for me. To qualify this, please let me remind you again I'm not a coach (yet) or a physiotherapist or anything medical. Just an ordinary bloke who thrives on running.
Different types of 'warming up'
- On the spot: this doesn't involve running necessarily. Breathe well, stretch your arms up and wide, shake your hands as they come back down. Move your feet around, do a few little jumps or skips right where you are. This is a kind of dynamic stretching or warming up; simply getting the blood flowing nicely, clearing your mind and deeply filling your lungs with air. This kind of a warm up is, I believe, quite a good thing for anyone to do before undertaking some exercise.
- Stretching: I quite often see runners at races stretching before the race. I have also done this in my earlier years as a runner but I'm not convinced. Unless your muscles are already warm, stretching can do more harm than good.
- Starting off slowly. By this I mean not racing ahead even though energy reserves are full and the temptation is to have fun and go shooting ahead. No, don't do it. Instead it's much better to run quite slowly, or jog, until you feel your muscles are becoming warm and more supple.
How long does it take?
Yep I prefer the 'on the spot' jiggling around and a slow start as the best way of warming myself up for a great run. This has proved an effective way of avoiding injury but getting some blood flowing and generally waking my body up.
However, I notice such a difference going from one season to another. During my long winter runs it would easily take 30 minutes of gentle running before I would feel properly warmed up. Always the last part of my body to be properly warmed would be my hands and fingers. Although I always wore gloves my fingers would remain cold for half an hour. If my fingers were cold, I knew that I wasn't functioning in a completely efficient way. Once the 30 minutes were over I would speed up a little and really feel I was running with good form and this would coincide with real enjoyment of the run.
Surprisingly even in the warmer summer weather, it takes me 20 minutes before I am running well.
I always try to have a post-run stretch, although in all honesty it doesn't always happen. I do generally feel the benefit of it in two ways:
- muscle soreness can be reduced through stretching, almost as if I'm wringing the lactic acid out
- the following run, perhaps on the next day, goes well from the start
This is an important thing for runners to consider as we are often on the stiff side. This has been noticed by numerous yoga and Pilates teachers. Even though runners are generally fit and in good shape, runners don't always have the right degree of suppleness. Stretching can help this but it needs to be done in the right way as I do believe stretching, done incorrectly, can actually do more harm than good.
Making sure we are properly warmed up is important for runners. We can take steps to warm ourselves up before a run but the early part of the run is still part of the process. Don't forget this, it's important!
Listen to your own body. Make a note of how long it truly takes before you're running at your best and my advice is not to underestimate this. When you're on a training run, you're not in a race. You're training purpose is to improve your performance gradually.
Warming up, in my experience, depends on the time of year and the temperature. When temperatures are cold, do allow extra time for warming up.
Stretching is, in my view, best left until after a run. With very long runs (i.e. 20 miles plus), it might be better not to stretch at all and instead simply allow your legs to rest. Stretching could be done a little later.