WARMING up and cooling down are essential parts of training. While a good warm up gets your mind and body ready for exercise, the cool down will help with the recovery process. Together they’ll help you to get the most from your workout.
The benefits of warming up
During the warm up your heart rate will increase gradually, pumping blood around the body and getting oxygen to the working muscles. An effective warm up will mobilise your joints including your hips, shoulders and knees. It increases the amount of synovial fluid in your body, which helps lubricate your joints.
Warming up before training sessions and competitions will improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury. It will give your muscles, bones and joints time to adapt to the exercise gradually and gently. You’ll quickly be able to get into a running rhythm with a pace you can sustain for longer.
As well as activating the running muscles, a warm up is a good time to work on your weaker areas. Your coach, sports therapist or physiotherapist may have identified areas to strengthen. Taking time to do this means you will move better and more efficiently. If you don’t warm up, you risk pulling a muscle or experiencing severe muscle stiffness. Don’t underestimate the benefit of a good warm up. It enhances performance and helps you reach your full potential.
The misconceptions of warming up
Warming up is not just about running, but that’s what most runners do. For many, a warm up means running slower for a mile or two before going into the main session. This helps your aerobic system but doesn’t develop neuromuscular fitness, the communication between your brain and muscles necessary to activate the running muscles.
The best way to develop this neuromuscular fitness is to include drills in your warm up. The drills require skill and coordination, stimulating the brain to communicate with and engage the muscle fibres needed for the main session. You will soon notice improvements in your technique, efficiency of movement, coordination, stride, power and strength.
Components of the warm up
A good warm up should be general and specific. A general warm up focuses on the aerobic system, raising the heart rate and increasing body temperature. The specific warm up improves neuromuscular activation. Basically, this part of the warm up will get your running-specific muscles firing.
The warm up should include a variety of exercises including aerobic work, drills and technique. It should be progressive. If you are doing speed work in the main session, you need to include faster bursts of running in the warm up. As a guide it should include:
• five to 10 minutes of jogging/easy paced running,
• dynamic stretches
• a combination of whole-body drills
• and strides. The strides are runs over 30 to 60m at a faster pace, focusing on correct running technique.
Dynamic movement not static
The warm up should include a variety of sports-specific dynamic stretches and mobility exercises. These are controlled, repetitive movements that cover the full range of motion. In this part of the warm up you will flex, extend and rotate your joints. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm rotation, hip circles, lunges and leg swings.
The dynamic stretches improve range of motion, as well as increasing heart rate, blood circulation and body temperature. Use small movements for the first few repetitions, before slowly starting to increase the range of motion. The traditional static stretches, where you hold a muscle in a fixed position (e.g. in a hamstring stretch) should be done at the end of the session, not the beginning.
The cool down
After a workout make sure you take time to cool down. The cool down returns your body to its resting state. It’s all about the recovery process and preparing for your next workout. You need to finish your run feeling energised, so you look forward to your next session. An effective cool down will also reduce the risk of muscle stiffness in the days following exercise.
In the cool down it’s important to bring your heart rate and body temperature down gradually to its resting level. Jogging or walking for five to 10 minutes will give your body the time it needs. The cool down helps the body to recover and remove the lactic acid and waste products that your muscles produced during the session.
Once your heart rate and body temperature have decreased, you can then begin the static stretches, which should always be done at the end of your workout. The static stretches help to lengthen the muscles to their normal range of movement. Hold each stretch for eight to 10 seconds.
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