No-one, and we do mean no-one, can get up off the sofa, walk out the door and run at their absolute best. Your body isn’t ready to go from zero to whatever your race pace is from a standing start, and you’ll no doubt notice that you feel sluggish over your first couple of kilometres if you try to.
To counter this, you should warm up before a run. Almost every runner knows this already and yet the vast majority skip it. And the same goes for warming down afterwards, which is even more tempting to skip, because you just want to crash on the sofa or have a shower when your run’s done.
But performing warm-up exercises doesn’t just get you ready to run at your best. It’s one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of injury, because it gets your muscles moving without stressing them unduly as you would do by sprinting off the blocks cold.
When you’re training for an event like a marathon, it becomes even more important to take a few minutes before and after your run to warm up and warm down. That’s because you’re running several times a week for a few months, so you should be taking every possible step to reduce your risk of injury. When it comes to race day itself, finding time to warm up before getting into starting group can be tricky, but it’s worth doing whatever you can to get your body moving before you start running.
Below you’ll find all the advice you need on warming up and warming down, including short routines you can use for both, from James Heptonstall, Adidas Runners London captain. It’s not just a case of jogging a bit – dynamic stretches, drills and short sprints are the order of the day.
Why is it important to warm up and warm down?
Preventing injuries is the first big reason, and steering clear of knocks and niggles is a vital part of successfully getting through training for an event like a marathon.
“A warm-up before a session is getting your body prepared to undertake the training exercises you have planned,” says Heptonstall.
“Through a dynamic warm-up you are preparing your muscles so they are not going into it cold, making it less likely you will strain or tear them.
“With the warm-down you are flushing out any lactic acid that has built up from your session and are stretching to realign muscle fibres to maintain flexibility.”
Beyond injury prevention, a little extra work at the start and end of sessions will also mean you get the most out of your training.
“A warm-up allows your body to get up to speed for the activities planned so you’re firing on all cylinders from the get-go,” says Heptonstall.
“The warm-down will also aid recovery between sessions and keep you in good shape to maintain your training schedule and avoid compromising your training session performance level.”
How To Warm Up For A Run
Ensure every run goes smoothly with Heptonstall’s warm-up plan.
1. Start with a gentle two-minute jog.
2. Do the following dynamic drills in order over 15m, then jog back to the starting point to recover.
- High knees: Run forward, lifting your knees till they’re bent at 90° and your thigh is parallel to the ground, maintaining an upright posture. Do this twice.
- Heel flicks: Run while flicking your legs back so your heels tap your bum and your knees are pointing down, maintaining an upright posture. Do this twice.
- Walking dynamic hamstring stretches: Walk forward, keeping your front leg straight and placing your heel on the ground first. Bend over and try to sweep the ground with your hands as you go. Do this twice.
- Walking lunges: Step forward into a lunge, lowering until both knees are bent at 90°. Don’t hold the lunge – keep moving forward into a lunge on the opposite leg.
- Sumo squats: With your feet in a wide stance and your toes pointed outwards, lower into a squat and immediately pop out of it with a small jump. Take a couple of paces forward and repeat.
- High knees: As above but increase the intensity.
- Heel flicks: As above but increase the intensity.
3. Do five sprints (called strides) over 50m at 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% and then 90% effort.
How To Warm Down After A Run
If you’re pressed for time, it’s smarter to finish the run early to fit in this warm-down from Heptonstall rather than heading straight for the showers.
1. Start with a gentle two-minute jog, interspersed with some skipping intervals.
2. Do the following stretches in order, holding them for 30 seconds each on each side. Do each stretch twice and try to increase the range of movement on the second.
- Shoulder rotation: Rotate shoulders forwards and back.
- Deltoid stretch: Pull a straight arm across your chest and hug with the other arm.
- Triceps stretch: Hold a bent arm by the elbow behind your head.
- Quad stretch: Hold your foot against your glute, keeping your knees together.
- Groin stretch: Sit down with the soles of your feet together and push out your knees with your elbows.
- Glute stretch: Sit down and place one bent leg over a straight leg and gently hug your bent knee with both arms towards your chest.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit down with one leg straight and place the sole of your foot against the inner thigh of your straight leg. Then bend from your hips to try and reach your toes of the straight leg.
- Calf stretch: Find a step or kerb, place the ball of your foot on it and lower your heel, keeping your leg straight.
- Ankle rotation: Stand on one foot, rotate the ankle on the other foot in one direction, then the other.
Should you change your warm-up for speed or hill sessions?
Mixing up your runs is key to improving and keeping your training interesting, and it’s also worth varying your warm-ups and warm-downs when you do different sessions, says Heptonstall.
“You can tweak your warm-up to replicate the session you are about to do. For example, put some more strides and higher intensity warm-up drills before a speed session. For hills, you will want to activate the glutes a bit more in the warm-up.”
“With the warm-down, if it has been a particularly hard session spend a bit longer stretching, and incorporate some foam roller work. You can also use an ice bath straight after any really tough sessions to aid recovery.”
Adidas Runners London is a running group that meets twice a week in London throughout the year. In the build-up to the London Marathon, it is also putting on long runs every Saturday. For more info, check out the Facebook group.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.