The Importance of a Good Warm-up

Running used to be easy. As a 14-yr. old, I could spring up from the sofa, lace up my shoes and head out the door for a quick run—no problem. Fast forward 40 years, and my runs are anything but easy. As I head up the Miranda trail on the north side of Galbraith Mtn, my legs feel leaden and I’m huffing and puffing like an old steam engine. It takes me a good 25 minutes of chugging away before I finally start to breathe easy and my legs and lower back feel fluid and limber. I’m finally warmed-up!

The importance of a good warm-up is not lost on me. I ran track and cross-country in H.S. and College, and I’ve run countless road races in the decades since. As a coach for Middle Schools, High Schools and recreational runners, I’ve consistently preached the value of a thorough warm-up before attempting to run fast. Warming up properly dilates your blood vessels, which increases the flow of blood (and thus oxygen) to your muscles. In addition, a good warm-up slowly raises your heart rate, which places less stress on your heart when you start to run fast. Even mechanical contraptions, like automobile engines, perform more efficiently after warming up, and your body is the most important “machine” you own.

Here’s an example of a good warm-up routine (one I’ve used for the weekly Greater Bellingham Running Club track workout for years):

Start by jogging for 5-10 minutes. Start SLOW; you want to gradually raise your heart rate

Next, perform several dynamic-flexibility drills, such as high-knees, skips, race-walking, backwards running, butt-kicks, karaoke (or “grapevine”)—these introduce increased range-of-motion to your muscles and joints and further raise heart rate by adding some intensity/power to the movement

Next, perform leg-swings to add additional range-of-motion to your hips, quads and hamstrings. Use a fence or bench for balance and get up on your toes one leg at a time to swing your legs. Front-Back and Side-to-Side

Next, run 2-4 “strides”. A “stride” is a controlled acceleration, not an all-out sprint. The focus is on efficient arm form, knee-lift and driving from the ankle/forefoot while staying relaxed. You should feel your core “lift” as you get up on your toes and accelerate. Pump your arms forcefully but keep your shoulders, hands and face relaxed. These strides should feel “exhilarating” rather than exhausting. At the track, I like to have runners “jog the turns” and “stride the straightaways”. Keep the jog SLOW, so you can put more energy into the STRIDE!

At this point (this should be a 20-25 minute process), you should be ready to go. A proper warm-up includes “sweats” (running pants or tights, an extra long-sleeve top for warmth, hat and gloves if it’s cold) and is performed in training shoes. Your muscles should be warm enough to perspire. Now your heart is pumping strongly, your muscles are getting lots of oxygen, and your body feels warm and fluid. It’s time to get in some good stretches and change to your light racing shoes!

One good principal to remember is: the shorter the race; the longer the war-up//the longer the race; the shorter the warm-up. A serious sprinter getting ready for a 100M race will have a routine that takes a good 50-60 minutes, while a marathon runner can warm-up in 20-25 minutes.

Why do you race? Whether you are a competitive 5K runner hoping to win your age-group, or a recreational runner trying to drop your half-marathon time, you’ve spent countless hours and miles getting ready for this moment. A thoughtfully planned 25 minute warm-up can make a HUGE difference in how your body responds to the hard effort you are about to embark upon. Practice a good warm-up before all of your hard workouts and races. I have no doubt that you will run faster because of it!

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