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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