Running Warm Up and Cool Down
Warming up? What’s that? When you’re just starting out in your running career, it might be tempting to tie your laces as quickly as possible and head out of the door like a greyhound.
What you really need to do is warm up and cool down like a pro…
Get into the habit of warming up before your run and then it will become second nature. For this reason, if you’re a quiet person you might be better of running on your own, or at least with a friend who is also a newbie. Reason being, if you’re easily led and don’t like standing up for yourself, your know-all friend could possibly be too eager to do a warm up. Not everybody does them, even though they know they should.
Just make sure you start of on the right foot, no pun intended. Warm ups are a runner’s best friend and essential for all forms of exercise. You have been warned!
I’m a pedantic type of guy and like to do things as accurately as possible. What I’m getting at is, when the footballers are warming up on the television, it’s amazing how many don’t do it exactly right. For the wages they’re on and the top-level coaching they receive, you’d think that they would do it perfectly? After all, that slight over stretching could lead to a rupture and a famous sportsman on mega wages sat at home instead of whipping a football into the back of the net.
There are many ways to warm up, but for a beginner it isn’t necessary to get too technical. All you need to do is get your muscles, tendons and ligaments loosened up and blood pumping around your body.
Think of Yourself as a Motorcar
If you drive a car you’ll already know that it isn’t a good idea to jump in your car and rev it like a rock star. Your car needs to warm up slowly so heat is transferred throughout the engine and driveshafts progressively and evenly.
Even your porridge warms up better slowly. We’ve all had that moment when we didn’t stir something and it blew up in the microwave – splashes all over the ceiling.
So you get the picture, materials, whether they are blood and bone or oil and metal prefer a steady transfer of heat otherwise they don’t play well and kick up a fuss. In other words, they will break down. Not what we want when heading out for a morning run.
What’s the Weather Like Outdoors?
Winter is harsher on our body in the sense the cold will make it harder to warm up, but summer could leave us dehydrated so remember to make sure that you have plenty of fluid in you, preferably plain water or a suitable sports drink to hydrate you before you set off out.
Don’t drink so much that you feel sick once you’ve got 100 yards down the street. You also need a small meal or light snack 30 minutes to 2 hours before you start your run. Use a bit of common sense and if it’s early morning either have a small breakfast or just have a drink and leave breakfast till you get back home.
The general rule of thumb is that eating before your run will give you more energy, but running on an empty stomach will cause your body to tap into your fat stores; determine what your goals are the day before – planning ahead is key and eat appropriately.
Basic Warm Up Procedure
Like with food, plan your run the day or night before, but leave a section specifically for your warm up and cool down.
If you’re an absolute beginner, don’t worry about being to technical here, all you need to do is walk gently for three to five minutes, speeding up slightly, break into a light jog, until you start to feel warmer, then shake off your arms and legs.
What is super important to take note of is that you should never stretch when cold. You need to do a basic warm up in order to get your blood vessels dilated, your muscles loosened up somewhat and blood flowing through your veins nicely. Secondly, pre-workout stretches won’t be as deep as post-workout stretching. Your muscles will stretch much easier when fully warmed up – take notice of how this feels before and after. It’s nothing to worry about, but be cautious and never bounce into a stretch. Gentle is key!
Now it’s time to do some basic leg stretches: hold for 20 – 30 seconds per stretch.
Remember, keep it simple we aren’t going for gold just yet… and also remember to shake off after each stretch.
Stand upright, using a wall or a friend for support, pull your leg behind you. Hold onto the bottom of your shin bone. (Holding onto the toes can lead to overstretching.) Squeeze gently holding for thirty seconds. Shake off.
Swap legs and repeat this twice each leg, four times in total.
The easiest, and most common way, are to bend over and stretch down, trying to touch the ground. You can do both legs at once or one at a time. Either way, hold gently, not overbearing for thirty seconds. Shake off.
Stand with one leg in front of the other, hands on hips. Gently lean forward until you feel the stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for the usual thirty seconds, shake off and swap sides.
Two repetitions each leg.
Shake off and walk around.
Cool Down Afterwards
The cool down is essentially the warm up in reverse, although you should be able to hold the stretches a little deeper. Don’t get too carried away though. It’s vitally important that you get to know your body and what its limits are.
Make space for a few minutes to slow down your pace, let your heart rate settle again back to normal. It will fall naturally as you do your stretching.
Why is Cooling Down Important?
Cooling down helps your body settle back to its normal rhythm; it can prevent fainting or dizziness. It also help your body, along with stretching, flush toxins, such as lactic acid, from your body. Stretching aligns the muscle fibres so you won’t feel as stiff as well as increasing suppleness and flexibility, which prevent all manner of injuries.
A typical route to injury is that if you’ve been running regularly, built up your base fitness level and then don’t go for six months, once you start again it’s easy to become overconfident and stress your body. While you might feel fine during or immediately after your run, the next day you wake up with some painful after effects once your body has had time to stiffen and swell.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is Activated
When we run, our eyes dilate and our blood pressure increases; this is because our sympathetic nervous system turns on in case we need to run for a bus or run away from a lion. Once we start the cool down, our body has time to give the parasympathetic nervous system time to kick in and the blood vessels relax, blood starts returning to our stomach to digest food and we revert to a more relaxed state.
Our brain will be full of endorphins from the run, which gives us that runners high, which leads to an even more relaxed state.
It’s common knowledge that as we age our bodies get weaker, but when you’re driving about living a modern lifestyle it’s easy to get caught out. When I was working away from home in London, I caught the back end of the summer and was walking up to the city every night after work. Due to being a fast walker, I pound the pavements like crazy and my forty-year-old bones were no longer as strong as I thought. For the rest of the following week I was walking around the building site at work with swollen ankles that I didn’t envisage wearing until I’m at least 80. My first introduction to shin splints wasn’t a nice one.
Like most injuries, until we’ve had them they never sound as severe, but once bitten it’s definitely twice shy for me.
The older you are the more important it is to follow the correct procedure.
Wear Appropriate Kit
Most beginners will have a new pair of running shoes, so bear in mind that these will feel different when running than merely walking around. Give them time to break in before you run too far in them, which should help prevent blisters and sores.
Clean and fresh gym kit will also keep bacteria down and as well as feeling fresher, you will be less likely to give your friend a bad nose.
Grab a Bite to Eat
The sooner you eat after a run the better. That doesn’t mean that you need to wolf a three-course meal down as soon as you step foot off the track. All you need immediately after your run is something with carbohydrate and a little protein to start repairing your muscles and replenishing the energy reserves.
A sports bar or carb-protein drink is ideal, then by the time you’ve showered and got home you can have your main meal within a couple of hours.
Once your body has exercised, it is super-eager to get back to normal. It’s a bit like a turbo charged period, where your metabolism is highest and everything is working quicker than normal. Your digestion is quicker, etc.
With every minute after working out, your golden opportunity is slipping away, hence why you need to get something down the hatch to kickstart the recovery process. If you want the ultimate effect then have a protein and carbohydrate shake, like bodybuilders use. It will have all the nutrients your body needs without the stress of digesting a heavy meal.
Warming Up and Cooling Down in Summary
The main points to remember are:
- Warming up prevents injury by preparing your body for exercise. It loosens you limbs and primes your body’s fight or flight mechanism for maximum attack mode.
- Stretching helps prevent injuries both now and in the future, due to increased flexibility and increasing suppleness.
- Cooling down is the reverse of warming up, it helps your body settle back down into its natural rhythm, you won’t feel as stiff or sore the next day. It can prevent dizziness and even fainting.
- The most well-known waste product of exercise is lactic acid, which is removed more efficiently with the correct cooling off period. Stretching also helps your body by realigning muscle fibres correctly, which alleviates stiffness.
- Knowing you’re doing the right thing for your body, by spending a few minutes extra before and after each shift, will spur you on both mentally and physically.
- Remember: prevention is better than cure and you will be a happier, more injury-free runner if you stick to these simple guidelines.
- You can add extra stretches as you become more advanced and your confidence grows. For basic runners though, there really isn’t any need to be bending over like a black belt karate expert. Stick to the basics and you will be fine.
- Don’t be afraid to fail, there isn’t anything to panic over. Everyone had to start out somewhere no matter their standing in the game. Even Sir Mo Farah was a newbie at one point in his life – many a mile ago.
Do You Have a History of Injury?
If you are suffering from any old injuries or have poor medical health, you are best advised to see your doctor to get the all clear.
You know your body better than anyone else so be honest with yourself – it’s the best way to stay clear from the dreaded treatment table. We don’t say that to sound negative; but we want you to approach your running career the right way.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- Running Essentials for Beginners
- Running Nutrition for Beginners
- Jogging Tips for Beginners
- Treadmill Running Basics
- Buying Running Shoes
As always, make sure you have a bottle of water with you on your run, especially if you live in a sunny climate. Heatstroke isn’t nice! You shouldn’t need to take any food with you on a light run, unless you are diabetic and then either have your medication with you and an emergency snack or whatever your doctor recommends.
Other items you might wish to take:
- Sun cream.
- Drink and snack.
- Sun glasses and or cap.
- First aid kit in the car or at home with sticking plasters.
Stay safe and good luck!
Let us know how you get on in the comments below. What advice do you have for other readers?