Warm Ups: A little science and a little art

This post originated from my athletes asking questions and then realizing that I didn't really know some of the answers. At first, this might not seem like a good situation to be in, but I disagree. I love being able to help, love becoming a more knowledgable coach, and love having new things to look into. It Kees you on your toes! So, I sat down and thought about what we should know. Here's the questions I want answered:

  • What is the purpose of a warm up?
  • What does a warmup actually do?
  • When should I warm up? Does it need to be the same routine for every type of run?
  • What do I need to do for a proper warm up?

 The purpose of the warmup?

Luckily, this one is pretty straight forward. The purpose of the warmup is to prepare the body for harder running. If we are talking about easy running, then the purpose is simply to get the body ready to run. The warmup is really bridging the gap from doing nothing to being expected to perform at some intensity harder than sitting. This is all fairly vague, I know, so what it's telling us is that that level of expected intensity is going to dictate what our warmup needs to consist of.

What does a warmup actually do?

  1. It elevates our muscle temperature. This allows faster neural impulses and increases muscular force-velocity relationships.
  2. It raises our baseline VO2. There appears to be a sweet spot of 65-70% VO2max where following performances are best. This is a light to moderate run for most people. The key is to warm up but not get fatigued before the race.
  3. It improves our active range of motion. Dynamic stretching can improve your active range of motion which can improve stride mechanics. This could make you more economical, earlier in the race.
  4. Increased motor neuron firing. The more fibers you have firing at the start means less time you have to wait once the race has started.

 When should I warm up?
Truth be told, I think there's room for some sort of warmup for most days. I'm not saying you need 45 minutes to get ready for your morning easy run, but give me a few minutes. You might thank me later!
Easy days:
As I mentioned, I just need a few minutes. We don't really need to worry about really finding that sweet spot with the VO2 since our easy runs are going to be in that range anyway. Also, we aren't really looking to have all neurons firing. Really, if you are over the age of 30, you just don't want to feel like complete garbage for the first 10 minutes of the run. My suggestion is to take 3-5 minutes and do a quick and dirty dynamic stretching routine. Here’s ours If you want some other variations, I encourage you to visit www.coachjayjohnson.com He’s got some great stuff too. The fringe benefits of doing this will include being able to settle into your desired pace sooner and feeling smoother earlier. Also, if you do this on a regular basis, then you can help preserve hip mobility and strength. If you are really tight in your hips, then you will probably actually improve it. Why does this matter? Hip mobility and strength is crucial in allowing those big levers that we call legs, to do their job- making you faster, more economical, and fight the breakdown of form that occurs in endurance running.

SOS Days/Race Days
(5k, 10k, maybe ½ marathon)
Here is where you’ll need the most time, since we are making the most drastic transition from being at rest to high intensity efforts. The nice thing here though, is that we can get some double benefit here. One, it’s going to help our weekly mileage. Two, it’s going to be an easy way to get strides in during the week (I’ll have to write another post on strides). Since we are running fast we need to make sure that we are incorporating all the aspects of the warm up- muscle temp, VO2, range of motion, and neuron firing.
A sample warm up:
Start with dynamic stretching to loosen hips up

  1. 15-20 minutes of easy running. I typically want 20 minutes, but I know many of you are time crunched.
  2. *Optional* Form Drills. If you are really crunched for time, I understand, but these will take really about 5 minutes to do. Form Drills
  3. Strides: Do 4x10 seconds, or so. This should be fast about 95-98% of your max effort. The key is to keep them short. Recover fully before doing the next one.

~Note: Last stride should be done about 10 minutes before the start of the race. Do whatever you plan on doing for a race before your workouts. Be consistent. For half marathoners, if you are looking to run over 2:00:00 for the race, I recommend doing the marathon warm up below.

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An athlete’s question: Hill repeats or hilly run?

I really like these and maybe we should make it a regular part of blogging! I got another great question from Jill, an athlete we wrote a custom schedule for. She emailed me a very simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer: “What is better hill repeats or a hilly run at marathon pace?” Great question! The answer is… Both! Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Just kidding! The answer is both, but for other reasons. Let’s first look at hill repeats. Let’s ask ourselves what the main purpose is of hill repeats is? What is the benefit? Well, we know they’ll make us stronger, so let’s knock that one out of the way. One big aspect of hills is that it is a great form of speed work, or working at close to VO2max effort (not pace). With shorter, but faster hill repeats we are working very close to our VO2max if we are hammering hard up a 1-4 minute hill a few times in a row. You can tell just by how hard that you are breathing that you are working hard, right? With that, we are working on some neuromuscular components as well. With the intense effort, we begin recruiting all of our muscle fiber types to help out. This eventually “opens” up channels to some fast and intermediate twitch muscle fibers that you didn’t even know you had. At the end of the day, think of hill repeats as helping more with overall strength and top end components- lactate buffering, VO2 max, and things like that.

A final note about short hill repeats is that I will use them as gateways towards other workouts. With Boston Marathon people, what I will do is start out with UP hill repeats and a slow recovery back down the hill. Eccentric contractions are crucial for hill running, but they beat you up pretty good in the process. Over time, we’ll adjust and hard UP hill repeats, recover, and then DOWN hill repeats to prepare their legs for the thrashing they’ll get over 26 miles.

What about a tempo run on a hilly course? You’ll get a lot of benefit from theses, both physiologically and structurally. You’ll build your strength obviously, but it’s more like lifting 2 sets of 20 reps of medium weight, compared to like lifting 2 sets of 8 reps as hard as you can with hill repeats. You’ll still get muscle fiber recruitment too, simply because you’ll fatigue your muscles with a fairly intense effort over 30-70 or 80 minutes. For marathoners, that’s great because it’s very race like. These are all great benefits, but to me, one thing we can’t overlook is their eventual impact on our ability to judge effort and pace. For instance, right now, many people have awoken from treadmill hibernation, where they’ve simply set the pace on the hamster wheel and zoned out to their latest podcast of Dateline, or whatever you listen too. Now, they go outside and after letting their eyes recover from the new found sun, realize that there are hills and turns and beautiful scenery. I’m partly kidding, but you know what I mean- we forget and have forgot if we haven’t run in situations where we need to say, “man my pace is slow, but it certainly feels like a hard effort.” I reference back to folks training for Boston. There’s only small section of that course where it’s really flat. It seems like that you are either going up or down most of the time. This means splits will be fast and splits will be slow. It may be hard to find a rhythm. If you’ve practiced pace and effort on hills, then you’ll have more confidence and trust yourself that the effort is there and in the end, the pace will average out.

So there you have it, they are both important but for different reasons. Both have a place in training and can be utilized to your benefit.

– Luke


Negative thoughts..

I saw a stat once that some 66% of our self talk thoughts (that voice in our head) is negative! If you think it, you will be it!

Here’s a little tidbit to help alleviate and be more positive: Negative Thoughts



How to return to workouts

This came to me as I read an early morning email from an athlete. This runner’s strength is also their biggest weakness- they are so darned stubborn. This athlete has been injured for a while. Some of it from pushing to hard, but some of it was due to improper diagnosis. Anyway, long story short, she’s running again and I want her to build her base of nice easy miles for a few weeks. To my lack of shock, I was informed that a half marathon threshold was performed yesterday!

This brings up a couple points relevant to coming back from injury. The first is knowing when to do that first workout back. With our athlete above, she had some things going for her. First, she had a few weeks of easy mileage with gradually more volume being added. She had handled this well, with no regression back towards the injury. The second thing is, she wanted to to do a workout. She was asking and pleading her case to me for over a week. I was able to hold her back only so far. The thing is, even the most ambitious athlete will shy away from a hard workout if they know in their heart that they just aren’t ready.

Returning to Workouts

Returning to Workouts

Guide to Returning to Workouts

 4-7 days missed

  1. 3 plus easy runs of continual improvement
  2. No limping
  3. No pain during or after run
  4. Feel better at the end of run
  5. No meds needed

2+ weeks off

  1. At least half as many easy runs as days you have missed.
    • Missed 3 weeks off? Run at least 10 days easy. I’d prefer at least 2 weeks.
  2. No limping
  3. Continual improvement
  4. No pain at all
  5. No meds needed

Ok, so you meet these criteria and are ready to run something harder. That’s great, but please don’t jump right back into what you were doing. Regardless of time off, the worst thing to do is over stress the body. We are already stressing the body by adding volume back daily. If you haven’t adjusted to this volume and throw in a really high intensity workout, then you are going to end up right where you just were- hurt and sedentary. The longer amount of time you have had off, the more we need to emphasize the foundation of training and making sure our aerobic base is rock solid before adding the intensity.

Remember this: even if you are training for a 5k, over 80% of your fitness needed is going be coming from your aerobic abilities, so gradually adding intensity is NOT taking away from overall fitness!


Luke Humphrey Running Books!

With all of this said, here’s how I would progress:

  1. Marathon Tempo of 3-5 miles. If you’ve had several weeks off and another few weeks of easy running, I might even start out with something like 4×1 mile at MP.
    • 1-2 days of easy recovery running before going into next SOS day.
    • If it’s been a short amount of time, then you may only need one of these workouts to test the waters. If it’s been a while. Graduate from the marathon pace intervals to a marathon tempo run before moving up in intensity.
  2. Option here:
    • For short stints off, you can probably progress to another version of tempo or interval workouts. The level of intensity should either be half marathon pace or MP-10 seconds per mile.
    • For longer stints off, general endurance will be an issue. So, After doing a couple MP paced workouts, throw a long run in there. It doesn’t have to be what you would normally do for a long run. It just needs to be over that 90 minute range to get the desired benefits. So, I might  go two workouts, long run, one more workout at MP, and then move up the next workout to a half MP type workout. After this, another long run.
  3. After 2-3 weeks:
    • If you’ve taken a few days recovery between workouts, coupled with a long run, or two, you should be about 2-3 weeks of added intensity.
    • If everything is still pointing you in the direction of increased fitness, no regressions, and plain old feeling better, then you are probably ready to pick up where you need to be. If training for a marathon, this may mean stepping back down to the marathon pace work. For other distances, start adding what you need to add.
    • However, if you never completely leave the lower intensity work out, you will allow your body to adapt to higher workloads, increase your aerobic foundation, even when at another point in training, and reduce chance of becoming injured via too much high intensity.

HCS Core Routine

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HCS Total Leg Circuit

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Running and strength training

Get strong!If I were to go back and change one thing about my running career, it would be to change how I approached I approached strength training and “core” training. It’s not that none of my coaches had me avoid strength training, in fact, I think all of them knew it would be beneficial. The problem was, that I don’t think any of them truly understood how to approach the idea with an endurance runner. Really, you can’t say it was their fault, as the idea at the time I started running is that endurance runners purely needed to be skinny. At that point, I’d say looking frail was a precursor to how well you would run!

Now, as a coach, and as an athlete trying to preserve my career, I can see the benefits. Being strong and light are exponentially better than just being light. Being strong allows you to handle higher training loads and be more resilient. This allows us to be more consistent and continue to progress at steady rates.

Getting strong takes a commitment, but I certainly don’t think the time commitment that many of us feel is necessary. Since experimenting with this myself, I have it down to an efficient set of exercises. IF we do a little bit every day, in some capacity, we barely notice that time commitment. We don’t need to sacrifice our mileage or our desirable weight. Nor, do we need to sacrifice our hard earned performance.

Alright, give me stuff!

At our camp last weekend, I presented a few slides on the subject: Running & Strength Training

My notes are on there too, so hopefully it makes senses. For our Training Supplements members, I have added pdf’s of two specific routines that I have made.










Updated Dynamic Warm Up and Drills

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Dynamic Warm-up

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