How to get the most out of your warm up and cool down
Efficient preparation and recovery for runners
You may have read a lot of articles about what training to do in the build up to a race, what to eat, what not to eat, and also maybe how far to run every time you go training. Doing that kind of detail is great, but one thing you might not have considered quite so much is how to get the most out of your warm up and cool down.
Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.
Over the years I have experimented with different exercises and warm up routines that work for me and having done it for so many years now, it has become almost second nature. Without fail I will always do a 2-3 mile jog warm up to get ready for either a training session or a race. The only exception would be before a marathon where I will run between one and two miles before the race. The jog will be very easy to start with and eventually get a little bit quicker as my muscles start to warm up. Once I’ve finished the jog I will then go into a series of activation exercises and drills which normally take about 15-20 minutes. I then finish off with some 3-4 strides before starting the race or session. I wouldn't do any static stretching in my warm up. It is all dynamic exercises which is probably my attempt to wake the body up.
Over the years I have discovered what works for me and perhaps this might not be good for someone else. The warm up is very individual and you need to find out what works for you. I would recommend an easy jog before doing anything, even if it’s just a five minute plod. You just need to get your heart rate elevated before you start the race, because that way it won't be such a shock to the system.
If you have ever felt sluggish at the start of a race, it probably means that you haven't done a sufficient warm up. Some dynamic drills you could try include high knees, heel kicks, hurdle walkovers, skipping, and B-Skips. There are plenty of drills out there, you just need to find a set you enjoy and that you feel help you warm up sufficiently.
The way I look at it is that you need to get the sluggish start out the way in the warm up. If you can get through that stage before the start then you'll be much better in the race. Dynamic drills really help as they raise your heart rate, help increase your range of motion and actually warm you up (temperature wise). Combining these with some strides at race pace is also worth trying. Although we have all been guilty of it at some point in our running lives, getting straight out of bed and going running is really not the best thing to do because it will greatly increase your chances of getting injured. Give yourself a little bit more time to get properly hydrated and fuelled up and also do a warm up!
Once you’ve completed the race or training session you may think your work is done, but a small stretching session and a jog will definitely help aid recovery. Your body needs to warm down from all the hard physical activity. Take advantage of your warm muscles by doing some static stretching. It’s important to do this to stop your legs being sore in the mornings and prevent any pooling of any lactic acid. The only time where running and stretching may not be an option is after a marathon. Believe me, I've been there and the last thing you want to do is run another step. If this is the case and if you can stand them, an ice bath would be the way to go. You just need something to help the legs recover, and an ice bath will rush more blood to the legs, and therefore flush out lactic acid and waste products which build up after 26.2 miles.
Good luck with your future races and do practice different warm up/cool downs in training until you find a routine that works and makes you feel good and raring to go on the start line!