Warming up before a run is a crucial and should be an integral part of your routine. Keith from Right Path Fitness helps us understand why it is so important, and the types of stretches we should be doing.
THE BEST WARM-UP STRETCHES FOR RUNNERS
If you are a runner and you’re currently failing to warm-up properly prior to your runs, then not only are you unnecessarily opening yourself up to greater risk of injury, but you are also significantly compromising your performance too, according to recent research. Studies have shown that not warming up properly means that you’re often unable to perform at your maximum potential, as you simply haven’t prepared your body properly for what’s to come – which means that it won’t be able to respond as efficiently to the demands of running as would be the case if you have followed a thorough and comprehensive pre-run warm-up regime.
But if you’re not warming up properly, the bad news doesn’t stop there - lack of a suitable warm-up program can also affect your mental performance during your run too – by warming up properly you are mentally preparing your body for the demands and possible discomfort that is to come during your run – such preparation has been shown to improve both technique and co-ordination during running – which leads to better levels of performance.
With all this in mind, here’s a run-down of the best warm-up stretches to perform prior to running – make sure you make time to run through these before every run, in order to give yourself the best possible chance of remaining injury-free and of performing to your optimum potential during each run!
The focus of pre-running warm-up stretches
Stretches should focus on the major muscle groups that you’ll be using - quads, hamstrings, gluteals and hip flexors, but you shouldn’t neglect also stretching abs, back and calf muscles. Make sure you hit these major muscle groups thoroughly prior to embarking on any run.
Focus on dynamic stretches
Dynamic stretches (stretches that incorporate movement and take your joints through their full range of motion) are a better option for you when you are performing warm-up stretches prior to your runs, as they much more closely resemble the kinds of movements that you will be performing during your runs, when compared to static stretches - for this reason, dynamic stretches better prepare you, both physically and mentally, for what is to come!
Walking lunges are great as a pre-running warm-up stretch, as they focus directly on the major muscle groups that you’ll be using during your run, namely your quads and hip-flexors. What’s more, they also stimulate the forward motion of running, so they prepare you for the kind of movement that you will need to perform during your run, which is why they are such a great pre-run warm-up movement. Key pointers to note for this stretch are to bend your front knee down to 90 degrees, hold the lowest position for around 2-3 seconds, and be sure to straighten the back leg until you feel a good stretch in the targeted area.
Side stretches are a great pre-jogging warm-up exercise to perform, as the on-set of side-stitch is a common complaint amongst runners, and whilst no-one is quite sure what causes it, experts agree that stretching the torso thoroughly prior to running can help to prevent it. To perform this stretch, raise your arms up over your head and then lean firstly over to the left and then to the right, being sure to bend only at the waist. Be sure to perform this dynamically by smoothly alternating from one side to the other, only pausing for a couple of seconds on each side before moving to the other in a continuous movement. Remember the key focus – dynamic stretching is always best for this type of warm-up!
Your hips get a pounding when you are running, so it’s especially important to properly warm-up and stretch the muscles and joints in and around the hip area to prevent injury and enable free-flowing movement during your run. To assume the correct position for this stretch, place both hands on your hips and your feet shoulder-width apart - then to start with, circle your hips in a fairly limited range of motion at first, gradually working up to full-range of motion over time in order to slowly increase the intensity of the movement. Switch the direction of the circling after about every 10 rotations.
It’s vital to thoroughly warm-up your calf muscles before running as they contract everytime your foot leaves the ground, so you need a dynamic warm-up stretching exercise that targets this muscle group - and nothing does the job better than calf raises. To perform this stretch, find some suitable steps and stand on them with the balls of your feet on the step and your heels hanging over the edge, then rise up on your toes and slowly lower your heels back down again several times on each foot, targeting one leg at a time.
This stretch targets your hip flexors and quadriceps using a suitable dynamic movement – you can either use a wall for support and balance whilst performing the movement, or improve your balance at the same time as stretching by doing the movement without any support! Simply bend each leg at the knee by grabbing your ankle or foot with your hand and pulling your foot up to your buttocks, and holding it there for a count of around 10 seconds. You should take each stretch to the point where you feel suitable resistance – but don’t overstretch so that you feel any pain or discomfort whilst performing the movement.
Once your run is over and it’s time to cool down and recover, then it’s time to switch to more static stretches which you can hold for up to 30 seconds at a time. This should help to speed up recovery and relax and calm the muscles after the demands of a run – as well as aim mental recovery at the immediate post-run stage.
Injury Prevention whilst running
Whilst suitable stretching should ensure that injuries are kept to an absolute minimum, it’s worth quickly mentioning some additional pointers that you can incorporate into your running to further ensure that you avoid unnecessary injuries, as it’s such a crucial component of achieving your optimum potential as a runner. Key points of note here are to ensure that you know your natural limits well and don’t exceed them too often or aggressively, listen to your body at all times and to what it is trying to tell you, pay close attention to the length of your stride whilst running and try to find the optimum stride pattern, and finally if you are worried about risk of injury at any time for whatever reason, it might be worth sticking to running on more level surfaces for a set period of time, until such a worry has subsided. If you also incorporate these pointers into your running sessions, then you will truly be doing everything within your power to remain healthy and injury-free for your runs for the longest time possible.
And there you have it – our selection of the best warm-up stretches to perform prior to running, and some quick tips on stretches to use to cool down after your run is over and some additional ways to prevent injury thrown in to boot! Make sure you perform these movements each and every time you embark on a run, and you should have many years of injury-free, optimum performance running to look forward to – now get out there and start clocking up some of your best times ever!