Us runners tend to be an impatient bunch. We have lots of things that we want to happen and we want them to happen now. Things like wishing the humidity would get lost, for that race to be here now, for our pace to get quicker, or for the distances we can manage just to lengthen already. Another thing we tend to not want to wait for? Getting our runs started. When we know that we’ve got a run planned, we want to just go ahead and get it started already. This can result in us cutting one of the most important aspects of running out of our daily lives: the warm-up. Because — why would we want to “waste” precious running time on a warm-up? That just seems unnecessary. But, letting our impatience take over here is dangerous, as skipping a warm-up can lead to injury which can lead to needing to take a break from running all together. And if I know us runners, I know that that last sentence sounded like a nightmare. To help that nightmare from becoming a reality, we cannot skip the warm-up before we run.
Running is a high impact sport. While only our feet are stomping on the ground, the whole body is involved, desperately trying to stabilize and not collapse on itself. This is not exactly a motion that we should cannonball into, instead it should be eased. Having our bodies go from sitting down, relaxed positions to intense movements like running without any in between is a recipe for disaster. This is especially true for morning runners that like to run as soon as they wake up. Our bodies are at their most dormant stage while sleeping and need to be given a little time to get used to moving again. Those of us that run outside need to be even more careful about warming up. The lower the temperature gets, the more time it’s going to take our muscles to get warm and ready to run. Not warming up properly ups the risk for a runner’s worst nightmare: injury.
Once upon a time in the summer of 2013 I started running. I used the couch-to-5k app (highly recommend if you are looking to start running — it’s difficult but not impossible — and purchasing the app for $1.99 might give you the extra push to finish the program if not feeling like you are wasting money is the type of thing that drives you, not that I speak from experience) which has a 5-minute walk as a warm-up that you do before you do any sort of running at any time during the program. I went from a non-runner to being able to run a 5K in 9 weeks, with absolutely no injuries. When the program was over I started doing free runs sans tracking and thought that since I was such an experienced, professional runner now (excuse me, I DID run 5ks after all) I didn’t need that little, boring walk at the beginning of my runs. I thought that “my body would just know what to do” since I had been running for a whole 9 weeks. A few months after I became my own trainer I developed spin splints. I’ve since learned that I am a runner prone to injury and that if I try to run without warming up, I should pretty much just burn my running shoes because that would be less painful than my legs at the beginning, middle, and end of a run.
A 5-minute walk pre-run might be enough if you aren’t prone to injury (lucky!) but for those of us that are, or if you are serious about preventing injuries, it’s not enough. Here’s where dynamic stretches come into play: we should be doing them before we even get on the road to start our walking warm-up. Dynamic stretches are movement focused stretches — as opposed to static stretches where you are holding a single position for 20-30 seconds — that warm up the entire lower body, core, back, and arms and help prep it for running. They only take a few minutes of time but in my experience, with my high-maintenance/highly-sensitive body, they are a huge part of the reason why I’m able to stay injury free. I follow this video from Runner’s World before every run: it’s accessible, quick, and most of all, it works. Like so many other runners, I struggle with tight/inflexible/annoying hip flexors and IT bands which can cause knee pain that cuts a run short if I don’t specifically warm them up. Because of this, I add this move and knee circles on at the end of the video, which I would recommend if you too are a sufferer of IT band issues. I do 2 sets of 15 reps on each side and that gets my legs warmed up nicely.
In addition to preventing injury, pre-run warm-ups have been linked to an improvement of workouts. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching prior to running can improve your run. Participants in the research that followed a warm-up including dynamic stretches recorded quicker times in sprints than those that did not or those who performed only static stretches pre-run. The dynamic stretching preps your body for movement and can increase coordination, which leads to a better workout. While I’m not a doctor or a professional runner, in my own at-home test of this, I’ve also found it to be the case. My runs now that I always warm-up feel significantly better than the ones that I was doing sans warm-up, and it helps to keep me completely injury free.
Do you warm-up before you run?
Featured image is by Curtis Mac Newton.