A good warm-up routine is essential for preparing the body for more intense training and racing. The goal should be to gradually increase heart rate, blood circulation and loosen muscles and joints. This allows for superior performance at intense efforts and, most importantly, prevention of injuries.
Every workout should begin with light Zone 1 jogging, spinning or swimming for approximately 10-15 minutes. For swim and bike sessions and easier base runs, this 10-15 minute easy effort is sufficient warm-up. If the workout calls for more intense zone 4-5 run intervals or is a race, then you should integrate additional activities: specifically dynamic stretching, drills and strides.
After 10-15 minutes of light activity, it is good to further loosen muscles and joints by performing a dynamic stretching routine. The goal is to gently stretch each muscle for a very short period, relax it briefly and then stretch it again. Dynamic stretching has been proven to be superior to static stretching at activating muscles and boosting joint mobility, which will improve performance and prevent injury. Following are essential dynamic stretching exercises:
-Leg swings: While leaning against a wall or object for balance, swing leg forward and backward to stretch leg muscles and loosen hips. Do this for 15-20 seconds for each leg. Also swing the legs laterally 15-20 seconds per leg.
-Quad stretch: bend leg back, grab toes and pull to stretch quads for a couple seconds. Release. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
-Hamstring stretch: Extend arm out in front of you so that it is perpendicular to your body. Keeping your leg straight, kick your leg forward so that it hits your outstretched hand. You should feel a gentle stretch in your quad. Repeat 10-15 times for each leg.
Drills are performed before every intensity session and before strides. The purposes of drills are:
1. To loosen muscles so as to promote flexibility and decrease the likelihood of injury
2. To stimulate the neuromuscular system in preparation for faster running
3. To emphasize certain aspects of good running form so that they translate to your stride
All drills are dynamic and should be done with a focus on maintaining appropriate form. In each drill, emphasize running tall and pumping your arms forward and backwards with no lateral movement. If you know and like to do other drills besides the following, feel free to do them. The top five that at a minimum you should do include:
-High knees: Run with an exaggerated knee lift. Focus on running tall and almost leaning back. Keep your cadence high. Cover 30-50 meters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8opcQdC-V-U
-B-Skip: Run/walk but kick your working leg in front of you to waist height. Cover 30-50 meters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy97yNE7WEE
-Butt kicks: Run with a very quick cadence and bring your trailing leg up to you butt with each stride. Cover 30-50 meters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfCH8LMmLH8
-Quick Step: Run slow and every couple of steps perform an exaggerated fast stride with one leg in order to jump-start the neuromuscular system and get the muscle fibers firing. Cover 30-50 meters.
Strides are short pick-ups wherein you run 40-100 meters by slowly building from a slow jog up to just below sprint pace. Focus on form—running tall with your shoulders back and head up, landing on your forefoot, pumping your arms, and lifting your knees.
Strides are an important component of a warm-up as it prepares the body for faster running. But even more than that, they are essential to do a couple of times a week in all phases of training in order to ensure proper form and to keep the body in touch with the neuromuscular demands of faster running. Even in the preparation or base phase of training, strides should occasionally be done after Zone 2. Doing them before harder Zone 4 and 5 efforts and races is not negotiable. They are essential.