So, you’re ready for your next run. But before you set off, let’s consider the importance of a proper warm up.
If you’re an early morning runner and you’ve been led in bed all night, you’ll need to loosen up. Likewise, if you’ve been sat at work all day, you’ll need to prepare those joints and muscles for the physical activity that you’re about to put them through. Even if you have a physical job, getting yourself ready to run will not only improve your running performance, but it will help keep you free from injuries and increase your recovery rate.
So, warming up for a run is definitely important! But what’s the best way to warm up?
Love it or hate it, using a foam roller correctly has been proven to improve performance (1,2) and it’s a great way to prepare your muscles for running. From loosening up fascial adhesions to improving circulation, myofascial release with foam rolling is quick and effective and shouldn’t be left out of any warm up routine.
Using a foam roller (or a ball), stick to these six areas for the best whole-body release:
- Tensor fascia lata/TFL (hip flexor at the front of your hip)
- Lats (run from your armpit down the side of your body)
- Pectoral (chest).
Spending 60-90 seconds rolling each area will improve blood flow, release tension and will help identify any sore areas that may need some extra attention. If you’re not sure exactly what to do with your from roller or would like to learn how to use it effectively, why not some along to one of our exercise-rehabilitation classes.
How healthy are your joints? Simply moving a joint through its full range of motion will increase lubrication, open capillaries, improve circulation and facilitate coordination. Focus on your ankles, knees, hips and lower back. Here are some simple mobility exercises that you might do as part of your warm up.
Ankles: circle in each direction. Point the toes and bring them back towards the shins.
Knees: standing heel kicks to facilitate bending and extending the knees.
Hips: rotate one leg at a time in outward circles, before changing direction. Try to keep the circles as big as possible, as to challenge the full range of motion at the joint. Hold on to something if you’re balance isn’t great.
Lower back: laying on your back, bring both knees to your chest, squeeze and relax. Also try taking your right leg over to the left side with a bent knee to encourage rotation. Repeat on the other side.
Perform a few dynamic stretches after your mobility work. Dynamic means that you are stretching through moment (not holding a stretch).
Great examples of dynamic stretches include:
- Forward lunge with a torso rotation.
- Forward lunge with a torso side bend.
- Bringing alternate knees to the chest and squeezing.
- Alternating high kicks with a (fairly) straight leg.
- Hamstring stretches with an arm scoop whilst gently walking forwards.
Try to avoid static stretching before physical activity. Research has shown that it can in fact be detrimental to athletic performance (3,4,5).
Getting the right muscles firing before your run can help to maintain balance, symmetry and prevent injuries from occurring.
These exercises are fab for activating the muscles you need for running:
- Calves: heels raises, skipping.
- Quadriceps: lunges, bodyweight squats, tuck jumps.
- Hamstrings: heel kicks.
- Glutes: crab walks, side-to-side shuffles, or backwards shuttle runs.
Running backwards is a great way of activating those big gluteal muscles which continue to work when you turn around and run forwards (just make sure you’re in a hazard-free environment to prevent any unwanted falls).
Having your glutes activated will stabilise your hips, you’ll have greater propulsion when pushing off and your knees will be less inclined to fall in every time you plant your front foot. Not only will this make you a more efficient runner, but it will help prevent hip, knee and ankle overuse injuries from occurring.
So, here’s a summary for a runner’s guide to a quick, efficient warm up:
- Foam Rolling – Quick six; feet, calves, quadriceps, TFL, lats and pecs.
60-90 seconds on each, then move on.
- Mobility Work – Move each joint through its full range of motion. Include ankles, knees, hips, lower back.
- Dynamic Stretches – Active stretching with movement.
- Muscle Activation – Calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
- Backwards running will help with your forward running.
- Peacock CA, Krein DD, Silver TA, Sanders GJ, von Carlowitz KPA. An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. Int J Exerc Sci. 2014;7:202-211.
- Monteiro et al. Acute effects of different self-massage volumes on the FMS overhead deep squat performance. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017; 12(1): 94-104.
- Chatzopoulos D., Galazoulas C., Patikas D., Kotzamanidis C. (2014) Acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on balance, agility, reaction time and movement time. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 13(2), 403-409.
- Lowery RP et al. Effects of static stretching on 1-mile uphill run performance. J Strength Cont Res. 2014; 28(1): 161-7.
- Costa PB, Ryan ED, Herda TJ, Walter AA, Defreitas JM, Stout JR, Cramer JT. Acute effects of static stretching on peak torque and the hamstrings-to-quadriceps conventional and functional ratios. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23:38–45.