The TC 10K marks the start of the summer running season. By supporting events like the Bazan Bay 5K each year, Synergy is committed to helping people run smarter and faster. Our topic this time: how to warm up for a run.
Most of know that completing a warm-up is beneficial for performance and injury prevention, but exactly how we should warm up is a bit complicated.
For example, here is part of the warm-up advice outlined on page 116 of the 4th edition of Clinical Sports Medicine, commonly referred to as the bible of sports medicine:
“There is no data on which to prescribe intensity and duration of a warm-up. Thus, it may make sense to allow sportspeople to determine their warm-up individually.”
Not very helpful is it?! Ultimately it is up to you to determine what works at each event, but here are a few tips to get you started:
In general a shorter, faster, or more intense effort requires a more thorough warm-up if you want to perform at or near your maximum capacity from the start.
Start with a very slow jog and work through marathon to half-marathon effort for 15-20 minutes.
Race pace efforts
Try 2-4x 60-90sec with lots of recovery (equal time). At race pace, no faster. Although sprinting around at the start might intimidate your competition, it will also make you tired and may cause you to make costly pacing errors at the start of the race.
Do: all of the above if your goal is to PB and you want to be able to hit your target pace when the gun goes off.
Skip: your goal is to finish the race for fitness and/or the race distance is longer than 5-10km and you can “build into it” as your warm-up.
Static Stretching: (sustained hold for >20seconds)
Static stretching before you run will not save you from acute or overuse injury.
Static stretching does impair strength and power production, but the effect of this type of stretching on run performance is not completely clear.
A 2010 study examining 10 trained male distance runners concluded that 16 minutes of static stretching immediately prior to running impairs endurance performance and running economy. Performance was measured by a 30min run-as-far-as-possible treadmill test after running at 65%VO2 for 30min. Economy was measured by how many calories were expended during the 30min at 65%. When the runners skipped the stretching routine they burned fewer calories at 65%VO2 and ran farther during the 30min performance test.
However, a 2004 review suggested that pre-run stretching may improve running economy due to decreased visco-elasticity of the muscle. Decreased muscle stiffness = decreased energy to move the muscle.
Do: Stretch shortened muscles that are impairing your running form (ie. hip flexors) daily. If you find it helpful on race morning, try stretching at least 60min before the race starts.
Skip: If you want to get the most out of the “spring” in your step. To run quickly and efficiently, you need a degree of stiffness in the muscle so that it is able to store and release energy effectively (like a spring). Static stretching may influence both the muscle-tendon structure and the neurological system, decreasing the amount of stiffness within the muscle. To maintain muscle stiffness on race day, try dynamic stretching instead.
Dynamic stretching: (better described as movement preparation)
Any movement that takes your body through the range of motion required during your activity/sport of choice can be considered dynamic stretching. Vague? Yes, dynamic stretching is very helpful but poorly defined!
Examples include leg swings, butt kicks, and lunges.
Benefits: May improve running economy and speed via improved neuromuscular coordination and muscle activation.
Do: Before or after your cardiovascular warm up
Skip: If you still have no idea what I am talking about
Typically includes ABCDs and short accelerations.
Do: Specific drills/cues engraining proper form and coordination
Skip: If they will only tire you out or reinforce bad habits (over striding, increasing vertical displacement, etc.)
Add a Weight Vest:
What?…Why? A recently published article demonstrated that incorporating 6x10sec strides while wearing a weight vest (20% of body weight) improved leg stiffness, peak running speed, and running economy.
Do: If you want to try it. Warning: study participants were well-trained distance runners, so if you are new to running this regime may have a different and perhaps negative effect on your performance or injury risk.
Don’t: If, like me, you think it’s impractical and don’t want to spend $60-$200 on a weight vest.
However, it is an interesting concept and proves the benefit of adding some load and intensity to the warm-up to prime muscle stiffness.
Putting this all together, I will share my somewhat typical warm up which has been refined from my history as an alpine skier (doing power and strength based activities) as well as some solid evidence-based and field tested advice from my coach and fellow XTERRA competitor, Josiah Middaugh.
Keep in mind that I am an off-road triathlete and therefore do not take my stand-alone run performances on the road very seriously – I can afford a few slower km’s at the start of a road race and still accomplish my goal.
Pre-warm up stretch:
Foam roll x10-15sec/area including calfs, hamstrings, glutes, quads, lats, and thoracic spine. 1-2 extra sets over areas of greater tension.
Usually 1-3x of each: activation for TA (inner core) + diaphragm breathing (deadbug or standing lat stretch), hip extension (hip bridge) + thoracic spine rotation, quad+hip flexor stretch (1 extra set on my right side), bird dog exercise for postural control, and MET to correct a left anterior innominate (pelvis rotation).
Slow (starting embarrassingly slow/might-as-well-be-walking) up to ½ marathon pace. Usually 15-25min depending on how tired I feel. More fatigue = longer warm-up.
60sec race pace, 60sec walk/jog x2-4. Focus on form.
Lately I have tended to skip drills and strides because I don’t like how my HR spikes and I find they reinforce my bad habits of jumping from my toes and overstriding.
The effects of a warm-up will last approximately 30 minutes so be sure to finish your warm-up within that time frame, giving yourself enough time to hit the loo, strip into your race attire, and let your HR settle.
If you would like some help with recovery after the race, come find us at the finish! Our team of physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and naturopathic doctors will be around until the event wraps up.
For further reading:
Barnes, K.R., Hopkins, W.G., McGuigan, M.R., & Kilding, A.E. (2014). Warm-up with a weighted vest improves running performance via leg stiffness and running economy. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Retrieved from https://www.jsams.org/article/S1440-2440%2813%2900522-7/fulltext
Shrier, I. (2004). Does stretching improve performance? A systematic and critical review of the literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 5, 267-273.
Wilson, J.M., Hornbuckle, L.M., Kim, J.S., Ugrinowitsch, C., Lee, S.R., Zourdos, M.C., … Panton, L.B. (2010). Effects of static stretching on energy cost and running endurance performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 9, 2274-2279.