The Importance of Warming Up Before a Run

The Importance of Warming Up Before a Run

There's one thing that elite runners like Usain Bolt have in common with even the most casual of weekend warriors: the practice of warming up before a run. If warming up is good enough for Bolt and other Olympic runners, what can you take away from these world-class athletes and apply to your own routine? Lace up your shoes — it's time to get loose.

What Are the Basics of Warming Up Before a Run?

Many runners view a warm-up almost like a workout in and of itself, but that's the wrong approach. 

The best warm-up for a runner includes dynamic stretches and light cardio movements that mimic the same movements you're about to do in your actual run. For instance, if you're going to be running up a mountain, you may want to incorporate stair climbs to hit the same muscles you'll need when climbing that elevation. 

The goal of warming up is straightforward:

  • Raising core body temperature and heart rate
  • Turning on your central nervous system so your muscles fire more effectively
  • Enhancing your blood circulation, so your muscles get a flood of oxygen and nutrients while also flushing away the toxins and metabolic waste generated while exercising 
  • Preparing you mentally and emotionally to move and sweat

Combined, the benefits of a runner warming up before hitting the asphalt can be quite significant. 

The Benefits of Warming Up For Runners

While there's some debate about exactly how beneficial a warm-up and cool-down period is for athletes, the general consensus among movement experts and certified personal trainers is that warming up can significantly improve your performance on the running track.

For example, according to the American Council on Exercise, warming up before your run can help to:

  • Activate your central nervous system so your body and muscles are more aware of your body's position and movement, which in turn can improve athletic performance.
  • Improve your muscles' ability to tighten and lengthen, which is essential for creating the power in your stride for a fast run.
  • Enhance the levels of hormones in your body necessary for creating and using energy.
  • Turn on the slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are responsible for high-speed power and long-term endurance.

There is also a well-accepted hypothesis that warming up may help to prevent running injuries and may also reduce your risks of having post-workout aches and pains. 

"One of the ways you can help prepare your body to perform its best once you start running is to first perform a dynamic warm-up," says certified personal trainer and Runner's World columnist Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, in an interview. But what's the best warm-up to do before running? 

How to Warm Up Before a Run

Many runners skip the warm-up portion of their run because of this misconception that warming up takes a lot of time. However, the science shows that an effective warm-up only takes 12% to 20% of your total exercise session

In other words, if you're doing an hour-long run this weekend, you only need to do eight to 12 minutes of warm-up movements. With so many benefits associated with warming up, those eight minutes are a small investment to enjoy a faster, stronger, and happier run.

Make the most of your next warm-up by incorporating:

  • Cardio movements
  • Dynamic stretches

1. Start With Gentle Cardio

Ease into your warm-up with a cardio exercise that mimics the movements you'll be doing on your run. Examples include:

  • Lunges if you'll be sprinting or doing other high-power, explosive running movements
  • Brisk walking if you're doing a standard run
  • Hill climbs, stair climbs, or striders if you're preparing for a run that involves elevation changes

In most cases, you only need to do three to five minutes of your cardio warm-up. There's no need to break into a heavy sweat. You don't want to tax yourself before actually embarking on your full run. 

2. Ease Into Dynamic Stretches After Cardio

Forget the stretch-and-hold traditional movements you might have done in high school PE class. 

Dynamic stretches incorporate movement while also lengthening your muscles, thus activating your body in preparation for exertion while keeping your body warm and limber. For running, focus on dynamic stretches that target primarily your lower body.

Top dynamic stretches include:

  • Jog to Quad Stretch: Jog in place for a couple of seconds. Then, mid-jog, grab one leg behind you and hold the quad stretch for a couple of seconds. Release, get back into a jog, and repeat the cycle so each quad is stretched ten times.
  • Knee Hugs: Standing tall, bring one of your knees to your torso and then 'hug' it in close to you while simultaneously extending your opposite leg.

Other dynamic stretches and warm-up exercises you may want to consider include: 

  • Backward Skips 
  • Crossover Walk 
  • Side Lunges 
  • Bodyweight Squats 
  • High-Plank Hip Openers

Fuel Up For Your Run With Tiger Fitness

Once you've warmed up and stretched, fuel your body with the right supplements that power up your run and help you get the most out of those miles on the pavement. Some of the most well-researched supplements for runners that have been shown to improve your running strength, extend your endurance, and reduce post-run injuries and pain include vitamin D, coenzyme Q10, a protein supplement, and beetroot. You can find all of these supplements (and more!) at Tiger Fitness today!

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