By David Nogle, I.S.S.A. Certified Personal Trainer, I.S.S.A. Certified Nutrition Coach, Runner
A large part of getting into distance running beyond the traditional ranges that are run in high school entails higher mileage- and that’s not as simple as just running more. This means more wear and tear on the body. This isn’t something that you can just go out and do. If you are familiar with Progressive Overload, you’ll note that the recovery phase will once again become as or more important than the workout itself, due to the sheer volume. One way we can reduce the need for hours spent in physical therapy, trying to get that knot out of our back, or going through static stretch routines that don’t always even make noticeable differences in how we feel, is by becoming more efficient runners. We can do this by strengthening the muscles that typically fatigue first in a run, and by activating those same muscles to engage before we even start our runs.
There are a couple types of warm ups that many runners utilize for different types of runs. Long runs- that being runs that are a bit longer than the rest of the week’s (or month’s) training, with the intent of building aerobic capacity- are a good place to start. Even at the top level runners have varying warm ups for these. Sometimes if a run is long enough it might even be better to just warm up in the run itself and just start out slower in pace and progress. For many easy runs, general aerobic runs, or long runs, a lot of us come from backgrounds (usually high schools) where we are encouraged to do a static stretch routine before a run. In the general running community you’ll find quickly that this is an old fashioned method that little to no knowledgeable or high level athletes are doing anymore. Many countless world class coaches, athletes, and other trainers have come to the conclusion based on extensive studies that static stretching is less than effective for a pre run ritual. As a matter of fact, it can actually weaken muscles and cause strains or make a sore muscle worse. That being said, it’s much better to follow a short 5-15 minute dynamic warmup beforehand.
What a typical warm up might look like before an easy or moderate run:
5-15 minute dynamics warmup routine
Yoga and static stretches can be added in, but should be done afterwards and with caution. Also, it may be good to know your goal in these stretches. Are you actually trying to gain flexibility? Are you trying to be a more symmetrical person? Are you trying to loosen muscles and bring blood flow to sore areas? Assess your situation and make these decisions on an individual basis. When given advice for your situation, always make sure to ask the why. It’s certainly not a cookie cutter scenario.
Now, while getting into faster or generally higher effort workouts this may get a little more tricky. Warmups may be somewhat more complex on race day or on a track workout, high effort fartlek, or any other form of speed workout. Yes, you want to get muscles warmed up and developed. Yet, you want to avoid any unnecessary fatigue if at all possible in order to run the fastest times possible. Also, you want to prevent injury which is at a higher level of risk in these types of workouts. Top level trainers and coaches along with their athletes have created countless warm up routines- which tend to be longer and more complicated than a basic 10 minute dynamic routine. That being said, there is a noticeable pattern in these warm ups. Have you ever arrived at a race and wondered why all the serious runners get there so early. Have you ever been to a track meet and noticed distance runners warming up almost an hour before their race? There is a good reason for this.
Most warm up routines start with a short jog. This is to be done slower than race pace (regardless of distance). Beginners may want to do these for 6-12 minutes depending on temperature and level of fitness. For some beginners, even a very slow 10 minute jog can lead to fatigue that can’t quickly be recouped. Again, do note that any notable fatigue is to be avoided at this easy jogging pace. More experienced runners may want to do closer to 15 minutes or up to 2 miles (tip: try not to watch your pace on this warm up, or don’t wear a watch at all. Going too fast may psych you into thinking you tired yourself out when you didn’t, and going too slow may make you think you’re tired or sluggish when that’s not the case). This engages muscles used in running, yet favors different parts of the legs without putting strain on the aerobic system. With that, it is best to do warm ups in long sleeves when at all reasonable. Given that this is likely the highest your heart rate will be until the minutes leading up to the race, this is to be done 35-60 minutes before the race. While that is a large range of time, you should find what works best for you. Always experiment with changes like this in practice runs, never on race day. Now, as a personal tip, I often finish my warm up jog 30-40 minutes before the race even starts. I love to get signed in at this point. If it’s a larger event, sometimes they may consider that too early. Continue asking every few minutes to sign in as soon as possible. The worst they can say is, “not yet.” This allows you to have one less thing to think about leading up to the start line. Most people would not enjoy the experience of rushing to get signed in while most runners are walking up to the start line of a race. In the meantime, with the remaining time you have left you’ll want to then go through your dynamic routine. Start with lighter and easier stretches, and move to more dynamic and “running like” movements as the warm up goes on. One common mistake is runners feeling ready to start doing strides before the race too early. A common rule of thumb is not to start doing strides until 10 minutes before your race. Too many strides, as they are typically done at race pace, are almost guaranteed to cause unneeded fatigue. Strides are simply to open up your aerobic system and get into race rhythm to avoid early pacing mishaps.
My typical pre race warm up and cool down (start 50 minutes before race time):
- 15 minute jog with no watch or distance- just a timer (typically marathon pace plus 2 minutes per mile)
- Sign in to race if possible, then put on race shoes/spikes and do some extra stretching if needed for extra time (or if you want a longer rest from the warm up jog)
- About 25 minutes before the start of the race, start to do a dynamic routine
- No more than 10 minutes before the race, get down to whatever you’re going to wear during race time. Begin doing periodic strides reaching race pace.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU, obtained via Pexels.com