Anyone noticed the avalanche of walkers, runners and cyclists out on the roads and footpaths lately? I certainly have. It only took a pandemic and gym closures to get people moving! Now, although staying active and healthy is great, I have noticed for some, it has come at a cost.
What does that mean? Well, let’s take running for an example.
Running can be dated back to 776 BC. Are we designed to run? Probably not. We aren’t cheetahs. We stand upright, therefore our spine is vertical. Not ideal while pounding the pavement step after step. However, we have learnt and taught ourselves little tricks over time, to give ourselves as good a chance as possible to ease the stresses of running.
These ‘tricks of the trade’ have never been more important than now. As mentioned, a lot of people have begun running or increased how often they run. This can cause all sorts of issues through the lower limbs, the hips, and even the shoulders and neck, if we aren’t taking precautions (warm ups and cool downs) before or after your stint on the sidewalk. These past few weeks I have noticed an increase in hip complaints, lower back complaints, knee or foot complaints, even neck and shoulder issues. The common denominator?? There was a new found desire to run, or to do more of it.
Heres the thing. You can’t, and shouldn’t, just walk out the door, move into a light jog and then get on with it. Thats a recipe for disaster! Even the most seasoned runners, guys and gals who run competitively, warm up appropriately and cool down with structure too. If it’s good enough for them, it should absolutely be good enough for the rest of us.
So what is a good quality warm up and cool down for running? Having clocked up a few kilometres myself over the years, I have found that what you DON’T want to do is static stretches PRIOR TO your run. You know the ones where you lift your heel to your bum and stretch your quad for a few milliseconds? Or throw a foot up on a step or ledge, reach for your toes and hold a hammy stretch. Dump that tactic asap! Prior to running, your best bet to avoid injury is to get dynamic. And by that I mean dynamic stretches. These should be run specific. Priming the lower leg muscles, the hip flexors and hamstrings, gluteals and even the upper back and shoulder region.
Let’s take a closer look.
I like to start low and work my way up.
Lower calf / achilles tendon
Standing about arms length from a wall, bend the knees and sink down so that the knees travel slightly past the toes. keeping the hands pressed lightly on the wall, you should aim to feel a gentle stretch in the achilles. Alternating sides, lift the heel by rocking onto the forefoot, then place it back down as you move to the other heel. Do this motion for 20-30 secs before moving into some standing calf raises for the same amount of time to get some blood into the region.
Forward-facing leg swings
For the hamstrings, with a stiff leg and flexed foot (toes pulled back), swing your leg straight up infront of you. I like to keep one hand on something for balance, the other on the hip of the leg I’m working. This helps to monitor your hips through the movement. You want to aim to keep the hips still and ’squared up’ throughout. Try not to let the hip of the leg your swinging get out of control, and only swing to a height that lets you feel a gentle grab in the hamstring at the top of the movement. Keep the core engaged.
Hip flexor focused walking lunges
Most of us are familiar with lunges. With this warm up, we aren’t so much concerned with sinking as deep as you would for a lunge focusing on muscle gain, rather, we are just lunging to a shallow depth but aiming to stay very upright, even tilting back slightly through the upper body. Our goal is to feel a stretch through the hip flexor (front thigh) of the back leg. Doing these walking is ideal, however, if you don’t have the space for 20 or so paces, alternating lunges on the spot will suffice.
Glute bridge or hip raises
Time to prime the butt! Your backside plays a huge role in running. It supports the knee through impact and allows us to use a lot of power. No need to get fancy here. Lie down feet flat, knees bent at 90 degrees. Drive up through the heels and squeeze your backside at the top for a count of two. Lower slowly under control.
Front arm raises
Why do we need to use our arms in a run warm up? Think about what your shoulder joint does during your run. It swings back and forth with each and every stride. Do that over 5, 10, 20k’s or whatever, and they become fatigued and tight. Standing nice and tall, core engaged, swing one arm up directly overhead as the other swings slightly behind you. The one swinging slightly behind, we’re aiming to feel a gentle stretch in the front of the shoulder. When it’s swinging overhead, try and keep the traps relaxed and not let them lift.
Lastly, we need something explosive. Why? Well, at any one moment in time during a run, there is only ever one foot on the ground. The other foot is always in the air behind you. Squat down staying upright and touch the ground (or as close to it as possible), jump into the air a few inches, land under control (softly) bending the knees to absorb the impact. Never land stiff legged. This also ramps up our central nervous system, kind of like starting our body’s computer.
Completing this type of warm up for 5-10 mins prior to leaving the house will go a long way to ensuring you remain injury free post run.
Speaking of post run. Now is the time you want to call on the static stretches. Stretches that should be held for 30-90 seconds each side. Calf stretches, quad stretches, hamstring stretches, lower back and gluteal stretches and shoulder stretches, all will assist with recovery, getting you ready for your next bout of running. If possible, combine those with some gentle foam rolling and you will do even more to enhance recovery. ENJOY!