There are two important changes that most of us should try to incorporate into our running regime as soon as possible: a proper warm up and cool down
For years, coaches told their teams that stretching and loosening up prior to a race would improve performance, yet almost all recent research has shown that this recommendation is simply not true. All the jumping jacks in the world will not make you run faster in a race, nor will it improve your heart rate or stamina.
When we go to races we notice that some runners never compete in a race without a proper warm up or finish their day without a cool down. Conversely, almost all of the Striders never warm up properly before they begin, and never cool down after they are finished. Yet, years of research has determined that those who choose not to have a warm up or cool downs are usually the people who incur the most injuries, as warming up and cooling down now proves to be the single most important ingredient for injury prevention.
Both the warm-up and cool down are vital parts to any running program and should not be skipped under any circumstances.
The warm-up is necessary because cold muscles are not very flexible, meaning that they are more likely to be torn or pulled. Warm muscles therefore have a wider range of motion. Before you begin any run, no matter how long it is, a warm-up jog and stretches should be performed for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the duration and intensity of your workout. If you’re running a couple miles slow, then 5 minutes will do; however, if you’re running a track workout or racing, 20 minutes of warm up should be your norm. Muscles that have been properly warmed up perform better and are less likely to cramp up during a race.
Why Is Cooling Down Important?
Like the warm up, the cool down is extremely important for several reasons. First, it allows blood pressure to gradually slow down. If you’re having a tough workout or racing, and you just stop, blood could collect in your extremities and cause you to become light-headed or faint. Second cooling down also helps you to get rid of the by-products (lactic acid) of running long distance. Third, it allows the heart to slowly return to its resting state. Fourth, it helps to reduce the level of adrenaline in the blood. Perhaps the most important thing the cool-down does is help to prevent muscle soreness. You know the stiffness and pains we all have experienced a day or so after an intense workout. Cool downs should be performed for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the level of intensity of your workout. One way of incorporating a cool down is to extend your run an additional 5 minutes at a very slow pace. The purpose of this cool down is to run at a pace that allows you to stop, and your breathing is almost completely normal. Once you stop your run, an additional 10 minutes of stretching should be performed. Runners who do a complete cool down always feel better the next day than when they do not do one. They are ready to go out and resume training for the next race. Too often I have observed athletes heading for the locker room shortly after the race and I know that they will not recover as well as the person who cools down properly.
In summary, don’t waste endless hours of planning a training regimen as you prepare for running “Boston” by cutting corners on two crucial needs. Warm-up thoroughly and time it so that you are “warmed up” at race time and ready to go. When the race is over begin your recovery with a complete cool down and you will be preparing the body for tomorrow’s run.