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March 26, 2014

The Warm Up

Written by Dena Evans

lady_from_behind_warm_up

Your weekly schedule has just appeared in your email inbox and it is time to sit down to consider the week’s training tasks. What track workout or tempo run is planned?  When and where will that workout take place?

We know that the actual intervals of the workout will require our greatest expenditure of energy, so naturally we psych ourselves up for those.  Far less often do we consider the importance of the warm up.  This month, we will shed some light on this crucial aspect of your training and give the warm up its due.

Most workouts include varying amounts and variations on four very important aspects:  Easy running, LIGHT stretching, running drills, and strides.

Easy running

It is not uncommon for an easy warm-up jog to be described as a way to “get the blood flowing.”  Although that phrase is often uttered with a figurative meaning, the reality is, the easy jogging at the beginning of your warm up does exactly that.    Easy running provides a bridge for your body to move from a static situation (sleeping in bed, driving the car, watching TV), to a place where your core body temperature has been raised.  This prepares your muscles to accommodate increased blood flow, allows for more strenuous contractions as required by a hard workout, and starts the processes you’ll need to use your body’s stored energy effectively throughout the session.

Light stretching

The purpose of the warm up is to execute a string of activities that will conclude when your body is prepared to begin the hard work at hand.  Taking a timeout to stretch for 20 minutes will certainly disrupt the progression of that process.  However, taking a few moments to check in with the major muscle groups after (and only after) you have been able to light the fire with easy running can provide a helpful transition to the increasingly dynamic activities in the warm up routine.   Hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes, and iliotibial (IT) bands can be lightly stretched (finding a cozy position for 2x8-10 seconds without any strain or hint of pain) from a standing or supine position without taking more than 5-7 minutes away from the remainder of activities on tap.

Running drills

Running drills are exercises that mimic or closely resemble some of the types of repetitive demands harder running will make on your body.  The intention of running drills are to help ensure your body has been prepared to handle these, and to also reinforce the type of angles and form habits practiced by efficient runners.  Runcoach has outlined and created short videos for a basic canon of seven running drills.  Each drill is meant to be practiced for the distance indicated immediately after which the athlete should run with good form at 1500 meter pace effort for the balance of 100 meters.

Strides

Consider the last time you observed the start line of a competitive road race or track race.  Many times the athletes involved take complete repeated short running bouts of 30, 50, or even 100 meters just before the competition begins.  These final preparations are called strides. These strides listed on your warm up are most definitely related (as their lower-key cousin) to these pre race sprints.    A chance to concentrate on good form for 20-30 seconds and provide the body a few more sustained efforts that keep the body warm and prepared to work hard are the final touches on your warm up routine.  If you have ever done a workout with a short warm up and felt rusty on the first effort, only to find yourself feeling markedly better on the second bout, then you know firsthand the importance of strides.  Please see our video description of strides here.

While warm up is a crucial physical preparation process, it can also be an invaluable time to review the mental elements you’ll need to employ during the workout and distance yourself from the everyday cares that will be waiting when you return through your front door.  Let your warm up free you of the world’s gravity and transport you to the weightless state of focus on your workout.  Complete each step with care and you’ll find your workouts will benefit.

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