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.

Custom or Pre-Made Training Plans for any distance!

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 4×10 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.

SOS Days/Race Days

Long tempos/ ½ marathon/ marathon

The longer the race, the less warm up we really need. Referring back to the “sweet spot” VO2 of 65-70% of VO2max, we know that the average marathoner and the 2+ hour half marathoner is not going to be racing much higher than that. The most elite marathoners may need a little more of a warmup, as they are hitting 80-90% of their VO2max for the distance. Much like the easy day warmup, we can focus on increasing our range of motion and activating muscles more than warming them up to ideal temp.  Here’s a couple simple routines:

For the 3:30 and higher marathon runner and 2+ hour half marathoner:

I wouldn’t even worry about jogging. Let the first mile or two serve as a warm up. It may even prevent you from going out too hard! What I would do is our dynamic stretching routine about 10 minutes before the start of the race to increase your active range of motion. Then, just let the first few miles be your warm up. For you, glycogen conservation is way more important than having warm muscles from the start. From a practical standpoint, you are probably “corralled” in with little room, and will be walking up to the starting line anyway.

For the sub 3:10-3:30 marathoner

For this crew, I would take things a step farther. The person in this range is probably looking to place high in regional sized marathons and at the very least, running at an intensity of the 70-80% Vo2max range. So, you will need to bridge that gap a little bit. Here’s what I’d do:

20 minute before race:

  1. 3-5 minutes of dynamic stretching
  2. 5-10 minutes light jog
  3. Get to line about 5-10 minutes before start- make sure you take a gel to replace used glycogen

Not a lot to it, but it will allow you to get right into that more intense marathon pace without a big shock to the system.

For the sub 3:10 marathoner

For this final group of performers, there’s going to be a very specific need to be able to get right into an intense marathon pace. This crew is looking to be at 75-90% VO2max right from the gun, so they need every second they can. This is a group that’s trying to win races, qualify for Olympic Trials, and perform at a very high level. They need to be firing on all cylinders.

35-40 minute warm up:

  1. 3-5 minutes of dynamic stretching
  2. 10 minute light jog
  3. 3-5 minutes form drills
  4. 4-6 short strides
  5. Be on the line ~10 minutes before the gun (take a gel!!!)
  6. Dominate

 For MP4 version of file click HERE

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