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5 Reasons YOU must warm up!

The idea for this article came to me a few weeks ago.  I was in the gym with one of my personal training clients when someone who I know has a long-term achilles injury comes into the gym.  He got straight onto the treadmill and within less than a minute, was running.

For some people, a light jog would count as an appropriate start to a warm up, but when you have an achilles injury, that’s certainly not the way to go.  But, its not his fault.  If he understood the many reasons behind a warm up, perhaps he wouldn’t just jump on the treadmill and start running.  Who knows? Maybe he would, as sometimes, you can take a horse to water . . . but you can’t force them to drink.

It struck me that this chap probably doesn’t understand the reasons for a warm up, or had forgotten them.  However, when I ask this question in my Running Technique Workshops, the most common reason people give for not warming up properly is that they don’t have time.  My answer to that is two-fold – 1) If you understood why, then you’d make the time.  2) If its important enough to you, then you’d make the time.

The majority of injuries I come across in amateur athletes can usually be attributed to 1 of 3 things:

  1. Increasing mileage /training volume too rapidly
  2. Not warming up adequately for high intensity sessions
  3. Not cooling down adequately from high intensity sessions, including mobility work (learn more in How to Foam Roll).

In reality, all of these things are avoidable, and I Run Success is here to make sure you avoid them.  Check out the Free Injury Prevention Guide to learn more.

Download the guide here

Download the guide here

Why warm up?

Warming up helps to prepare our body for exercise.  It is an important part of any quality work-out, and it also helps to keep us safe from injury.  Read on to learn the reasons for a warm-up

1)Increased heart rate and breathing rate

This is probably the one reason for warm up that most people do understand. Before you start running you have to increase your heart rate so that you’re able to do work at a greater rate. This explains why often during the first few minutes of your run it can feel quite difficult and the breathing can feel quite laboured. The reason for this is it takes a couple of minutes for the aerobic energy system to switch on properly.  And if there are a lot of waste products in your muscles from a previous workout this can take even longer as you try to neutralize these products in your muscles. This is why recovery runs off form part of the training plans I assign my clients,  as it allows them to clear the waste products in their muscles and maintain good muscle health.

2)Increased synovial fluid in joints

This is one of the key ways a warm-up can help to prevent injury.  By using mobilisation exercises you encourage the synovial fluid build-up in your joints.  This means when you start running they’re nicely lubricated and as such there is some shock absorption within the joints.   This is especially important if you are an older athlete as the synovial fluid in your joints will take longer to build up effectively.  You can increase the synovial fluid in your joints in a few ways: Specific mobility exercises such as Spinal thoracic Twist, Spinal flexion,  Leg swings etc.  also getting up starting to walk before you run will have this effect as well.

3)Increase blood flow to the muscles so they can perform the activities you’re about to ask of them

This fits with the first reason for warming up – increasing heart rate and breathing rate as it increases your circulation as a whole.  The more blood entering your muscles the more fuel available for the muscles to contract; fuel comes in the form of glucose and oxygen and by warming up gradually you switch on the aerobic energy system glycogen starts to break down into glucose and the fuel is available to your muscles for the workout.

4)Prepare the mind for the challenge ahead

I’ve spoken before about Tim Noakes’ Central governor Theory. This is an important part of running and achieving your chosen goals. Spending time warming up and thinking about your workout can improve the outcome as you have some time to consider the challenge ahead aka ‘psyching yourself up’.

5)Determining whether the planned work out or race is appropriate today.

You showed up to a race,  you’ve not been feeling 100% since waking up but you put that down to nerves.  When you start your warm up however your heart rate sky rockets and you can feel your heart pounding in your chest after only 30 seconds.  A sure sign that you’re unwell and you’re fighting something.  This is not the day for a flat out effort; you have two choices – you can choose not to run at all,  or you can choose to run gently. Especially in a race situation it can be very difficult to listen to these signals from your body once you start of the race so an effective warm up is very important for the sense check.

How to warm up

The specifics of how you warm up will vary depending on the conditions and the race or run you’re about to do. For example on a warm sunny day with a recovery run a lot of this may not be completely necessary,  however in the midst of winter when you have 400 m repeats to complete you might want to extend every portion of the warm-up.

Ideally start by walking and gradually increase the peace to a brisk walking pace, bringing the arms into it. Depending on where you are you may break into a gentle dog for 2 to 3 minutes for you may choose to do your dynamic stretches now.

Why Dynamic Stretches?

Dynamic stretches enhance running efficiency by improving brain- muscle communications in ways that minimise wasteful tension in muscles opposing the working muscles at various phases of the stride.

The dynamic stretches are particularly important if you are sore from a previous day’s run or weights session. It will help loosen the muscles off before the impact forces of running and thereby reduce the risk of tearing something or an inflamed tendon.  If you do nothing else the dynamic calf stretch is the most important for running and how I wished that chap in the gym had at least done this before hopping on the treadmill. Its very appropriate if you ever suffer from any Achilles or calf problems, and is especially important if you do your running first thing in the morning after getting out of bed or if your runs in very cold weather. The next most important dynamic stretche is the leg swing and this is to warm up the hamstrings and quads and also to increase the synovial fluid in the hip joint. Its where most impact should be  absorbed, not in your back or knees.

Once you’ve completed the dynamic stretches you can set off into a gentle jog. Now you have to tune in and listen to your body –  Is anything tight or is anything telling you that you shouldn’t run today?  If the answer is no then you can increase the pace.  Your jog into increasing pace should last between 5 and 10 minutes. If you are doing a low intensity session such as a steady run a tempo run or progression run,  then you can go into your session now,  straight from the Warm Up . If you’re doing a high intensity session such as a 5K a 10k or speed intervals then you may want to continue for a bit longer and include some strides,  otherwise known as acceleration gliders: Over approximately 100 metres accelerate so that by the end of the hundreds because you’re at your desired pace for the race/repeats.  This is about getting your legs to turn over quickly and adapt to the impact forces you’re about to put through them,  rather than any heart rate specific warming up because you’ve already done this.

And that’s it, your warm up’s done.

The benefits of a warm up a particularly noticeable when you’re racing a 5K or 10 k.  taking that extra 10 to 15 minutes to get your body truly ready for the race means that you’re not spending the first one to two kilometres of the race just getting into gear. This makes for a far more pleasurable race experience and usually faster times.

If you have any questions about warming up properly why not come to the next Running Technique Workshop or you can post a comment below.

reserve your spot

A decent warm up is really important; you wouldn't skip first, second and third gear when you're going to drive on the motorway so don't avoid the warm up when you going to run fast.

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Angela Isherwood

Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.

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