The warm-up is something we are all aware of, yet all too often conveniently forgotten about prior to training. A simple short sharp warm-up not only prepares the body and aids injury avoidance, it clears the mind also prepares it for the training to come.
Skipping the warm-up and cool-down prior to and following a run are amongst the most common mistakes made by runners and games players. We are all guilty of it when we are short of time.
A simple planed and constructive warm-up prior to exercise is worth its weight in gold, once learned and perfected, it can be repeated easily every time. In fact before long it will just become part and parcel of your normal pre-race ritual. Equally as important is the cool down, or, most important, the stretch routine at the end of a session. This again will aide injury prevention and promotes recovery by giving the body time to return to its normal state.
There are a number of specific benefits to taking the time to perform a 10 to 15 minute warm-up, especially as the impact from running – particularly for unconditioned runners – causes a great amount of stress to the body and the connective tissues.
It prepares the body for the demands of exercise
Warming up helps with performance over the first part of a run, and can be the difference between success and failure. This is because the cardiovascular system begins to work the blood vessels open more fully, allowing more blood to flow around the body and thus warming and supplying the major muscles and organs with an adequate supply. The increase in blood also causes an increase in the rate of oxygen exchange from blood to muscle and tissue, which in turn allows the body to exercise to a higher aerobic level before the reduction of energy stores and rapid fatigue.
It warms the muscles, ligaments and tendons thoroughly
Running is particularly stressful to the joints and soft tissues, especially when performed on hard surfaces. A through warm-up ensures the muscle fibres, ligaments and tendons become more elastic basically because they are taken through a full range of movements. This increases flexibility and reduces potential for injury. Furthermore there is an increase in the release of the joint lubricator, synovial fluid, which only occurs with increased activity and again reduces the chance of injury.
It increases the core temperature
When running there is a natural increase in energy production, which in turn, causes an increase in heat. This allows the joints and muscles to become more flexible, helping to avoid injury. However, it also allows the body to start the processes necessary in the thermo-regulation prior to the real run commencing, meaning the body will be more efficient when it starts.
It increases the mental focus and prepares the mind for physical stress
A warm-up allows the mind to start focusing on the run ahead. It allows all the problems of the day to be forgotten and enables the brain to concentrate on the physical act of running.
It rehearses neuro-muscular channels and their function
The warm-up rehearses the body for specific movements during running by sending messages to the brain that will aid co-ordination. A running specific warm-up can be learnt and repeated, almost like a ritual. This prepares the body and mind for the run ahead like nothing else can.
It allows the adaptation to an extreme climate
If the run is to be performed in radical heat or cold the warm-up allows the body and the CV system to gradually adapt to the surrounding climate. Forgetting the warm-up and heading straight in to the run is more likely to lead to issues with the body’s regulatory system.
The Phases of the warm-up
1. Passive warm-up
Increase the body temperature using external means such as clothing, direct heat and massage.
2. Psychological warm-up
For the most part think about your motivational goals or use visualization techniques to picture yourself competing well. You can use music or other mental images to stimulate you.
3. General warm-up, mobilisation and pulse raiser
The main bulk of the warm-up should be executed in a very controlled manner. Start slowly ensuring all the initial movements are neither dynamic nor ballistic, and then gently increase the pace via joint mobilisation. Then move on to a pulse raiser, to get the heart and breathing rates up and induce sweating.
4. Stretch dynamically
Dynamic stretching is simply stretching the muscles via active exercise in the range of normal movement.
5. Second pulse raiser
Similar to the first pulse raiser but increase the intensity finishing a race pace or quicker.
6. Run/activity specific
For a sprint race, a few bursts from the blocks should be attempted. If you are going to run over hurdles or run up hills make the warm-up specific.
Similar to the warm-up the cool-down is often neglected. And as before, missing out on a good solid cool-down can lead to injury or loss in flexibility.
A good 5 to 30 minute cool down is the best way to help your body return to its normal state, gradually promoting recovery as well as providing time to reflect on the training or run that has just been undertaken. Cool downs are especially important if a subsequent session of exercise is to be undertaken with 24 hours.
Cooling down prevents blood pooling. In a normal body sate the muscles aid the heart and CV system to move blood around the body. This is done when the muscles contract and squeeze the veins to push blood back to the heart. If you sit or stand following a hard session the blood pools in the lower extremities, as the muscles are no longer contracting to help it return. The result is a lack of blood and therefore blood/oxygen to the head, which can result in losing consciousness as the body renders itself horizontal to ensure that blood is circulated.
The cool-down should focus on deliberate controlled movements. There should be no need for ballistic or dynamic stretching as this can prove dangerous to tired muscles and connecting tissues.
The 7 phases of Cool-Down
Following a run, continue to jog or at least walk. Reducing, rather than stopping exercise does the following:
- Ensures the skeletal muscle remains active, which ensures blood is pumped around the body and doesn’t pool in the legs.
- Lowers the pulse rate slowly and steadily
- Allows sweating to continue which enables the body to control its temperature properly
- Keeps the blood flowing ensuring nutrients are continuously delivered to the body
- Oxygen continues to be delivered to the muscles to ensure lactic acid and other waste products are cleared.
Simply add some layers of clothing or replace damp or wet clothing to ensure your muscles are kept warm in preparation for a stretch.
Walk about and maintain good posture and keeping your head up. Bending over reduces the amount of oxygen the lungs can take in, while walking around and remaining upright allows breaths to be taken in.
Stop walking around by continue to take deep breaths. Lie down on your back – this will aid in lowering the pulse further as blood-pooling can’t occur if the body is in a horizontal position. Soon after you will notice your pulse and breathing return to almost normal.
There are two types of stretches: maintenance and developmental. At first it is best to stick with maintenance stretches, which should be held for 8 to 10 seconds. These ensure the muscles stay flexible and help improve flexibility to some extent. In time its worth progressing onto developmental stretching which should be held for 30 seconds per stretch.
It is important to eat something after exercise. There is a small window of opportunity to replace the glycogen stores within your muscles. Research suggests that those who ingest carbohydrates and protein within one hour of activity will recover quicker and exhibit faster muscle repair than those who don’t. If eating following a run is difficult then have a specialized supplement drink or eat/drink something highly glycemic such as pure orange juice or bananas.
If any little niggles or muscle pulls have occurred, use an ice pack to start immediate recovery. Treat the injury with ice for 10 minutes every hour or so and you will take days of your recovery time.
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