One thing that keeps you running, besides good shoes and the gumption to get out of bed, is a good warm up. The warm up is less exciting than shoe technology or finding your zone, but just as integral to your success as a runner.
The type of warm up you do is dependent on the type of activity you are about to embark upon. The warm up for a runner is different than for a tennis player. The primary goal of any warm up is injury prevention. You also get the benefit of less discomfort during the activity after a good warm up.
The first principle of warming up is a gradual increase in intensity of the activity. Walk before you run, if you will.
There are a number of adaptations the body must make to go from its idling state to a higher performance level. The circulatory system must ramp up the blood supply. As your heart beats faster, blood supply is shifted to the working muscles and to the central circulation where it is used most efficiently.
The lungs, like the heart, increase both the rate of respiration and the depth of respiration, providing for increased oxygen needs.
All this activity is very good for your body and spirit. The hiccup is in going from a “body at rest” to “a body in motion.” That is perhaps not too surprising, as almost nobody starts their car on a cold morning, then “floors-it.” You would expect to see engine parts coming out your tailpipe. You would prefer not to have this happen to your body.
There is good evidence that a “cold” body is at greatest risk of injury. Studies have shown that back injuries occur more frequently when someone bends at the waist for the first time of the day. We all have experience with pulling a muscle simply doing a big stretch when yawning in the morning. Cold muscles injure easily.
The cardiovascular warm up is straightforward. For a runner it is as easy as a brisk walk for a block or two before running hard. If it’s cold out, some calisthenics indoors can get blood moving before charging outside for your run.
The stretching part of a warm up is much more controversial. More vigorous stretching to elongate muscles and stretch joint capsules has become much less popular among exercise physiologists as some studies show this increases injuries.
Static stretching – steadily reaching for your toes – gradually elongates muscles by continuous pressure. This type of stretching still is favored by many to prevent injuries.
Bounce stretching, colorfully named “ballistic stretching,” has totally fallen out of favor. This type of stretching is where you actively bounce against the limits of your range of motion, to increase it. The bouncing is more likely to hurt you.
Consider making an appropriate warm up part of your exercise routine. Your body will appreciate the few minutes of TLC while coming up to operating temperature. Your injuries will be fewer and your miles will be more enjoyable.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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