The warm-up is one the most important aspects of a training session or pre-race routine, but all too often runners fail to give it the right focus or overlook it completely.
Warming up will prepare your muscles before you suddenly shoot off at a fast pace at the start of a race or in training. It is an essential part of injury prevention and the benefits are not only physiological, there’s also the psychological benefits that leave you mentally prepared for what’s to come.
Reducing risk of injury
So how does warming up reduce your risk of injuries? Warming up correctly increases your heart rate and blood circulation; this will loosen up bones, joints and tendons and increase the blood flow to the primary muscles used in running.
By bringing your heart rate up warming up increase the body temperature and this keeps your muscles warm and will help prevent acute injuries such as hamstring strains and decrease the likelihood of flaring up tendons such as your Achilles.
While there is limited research to fully endorse warming up as an injury prevention method, studies do agree that the weight of evidence points is in favour of it decreasing the risk of injury.
How often do you feel lethargic at the start of a race or the first couple of reps in training? But after a few, you start to get into a rhythm.
As mentioned, your body temperature rises when you warm up and this also increases the rate at which oxygen circulates throughout the body.
This stimulates the neural pathways (highways in the brain that transmit messages) between your brain and muscles, and this helps improve muscle contraction, preparing your body for the training session or race and helping avoid that sluggish feeling.
If nothing else going through the steps of a familiar warm-up routine keeps your mind engaged helping to stave off nerves before the race.
During the steps include some positive reflection to remind yourself of past successful races or training sessions. This will help encourage confidence in your own ability, leaving you motivated to get the job done.
Tips for warming up before a race
1. Start your warm-up routine 35 to 45 minutes before the start of the race.
2. The shorter the distance, the more time you should spend warming up. While warming up before a marathon is important, it is even more so before a 5K race, and duration and intensity levels should match this.
3. Begin your warm-up with 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the race distance) easy running. Ensure that it exerts as little energy as possible.
4. Follow that up with some stretching. Particularly dynamic stretches, for five to 10 minutes.
5. Next, you want to get your body primed for the fast pace you aim to run from the start. To do this perform a series of 100m strides, four to six is ideal. To perform a stride correctly gradually accelerate to a pace slighter faster than your race goal pace, hold it and then gradually decelerate over the 100m.
This will elevate your heart rate and increase the blood flow to your muscles. Take 30 seconds of easy running after each stride before repeating.
6. While you are going through your warm-up drills think back to past successes in races and training, in particular, times when you doubted yourself and proved otherwise.
7. An important point to add is to be cautious you do not perform your warm-up too intensely. Gauge this on your current fitness levels, because while we want to want to be fired up before a race, it could add fatigue which will be detrimental to your race performance.
8. Aim to have your warm-up completed five minutes before the race start.
Once that is all done, you are both physically and mentally ready to take on the race and deliver your best performance.