Warming-up and cooling-down before and after running might seem boring, but it’s something you need to do. Not only will you reduce the risk of injuring yourself, you’ll also run faster. Here’s how to do it.
Think of a warm-up as a way of preparing your body for the run. Your heart, lungs, muscles and joints will all be put under strain when you run 4km, so they need to be ready.
During your warm-up you’ll:
- Raise your body temperature
- Increase your heart rate
- Make your muscles warmer
- Active neuromuscular pathways
- Mentally prepare for the run
Set aside ten minutes before your run and complete this two-stage warm-up:
1. Get your joints moving
Gently take each of the major joints (the neck, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles) through its full range of motion.
For example, roll the shoulders all the way around, bend and extend the knees fully, circle the ankles. This helps to lubricate the joint surfaces so that movement is more comfortable, smooth and safe during the run. Don’t swing or yank your limbs. Keep everything smooth and easy.
2. Raise your body temperature and heart rate
Next, to raise body temperature and heart rate, you need to get moving. Again, keep it easy.
This could be a mix of walking, marching on the spot, knee raises and side stepping and stair climbing. Finally, start running at a really slow jog, then gradually increase to your target pace and start tracking your distance.
Once your body has been firing on all cylinders during your 4k run, you don’t want to stop suddenly and fling yourself back on the sofa. This cool-down will gradually return your body to a resting state and relax your muscles.
1. Cool the body down
When you’ve finished the 4km, you might want to stop immediately. Don’t. Instead, drop down to the slowest jog possible for a couple of minutes, then walk.
This is known as a gradual deceleration, which redirects blood from the muscles that have been working so hard during the run, so you don’t feel lightheaded. It also clears the lactic acid from your muscles. This speeds up recovery and stops you from feeling stiff the next day.
Keep walking until your breathing and heart rate are back down to normal. This should take about five minutes.
Now it’s time to stretch. Stretching maintains flexibility, relaxes your muscles and helps to prevent injuries.
Hold each of the stretches below for 30 to 45 seconds, and complete the leg stretches for each leg. Breathe normally when you stretch, and ease off on any of the stretches if they start to feel painful.
Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
Stand face-on to a support between knee and mid-thigh height. Extend one leg and place it on the support, with the foot relaxed. Your supporting leg should be perpendicular to the floor. Now hinge forward from the hips (don’t round the back), keeping the pelvis level and the knee of the extended leg straight. Feel the stretch along the back of the supported thigh. Now slightly bend the knee and repeat the stretch. Swap sides.
Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
Stand tall with feet parallel and then lift your right heel, taking your right hand behind you to grab the foot. Bring the pelvis in to a neutral position (tuck the tailbone under) and gently press the foot into your hand, keeping the knee pointing downwards. It doesn’t matter if your stretching thigh is in front of the supporting one, as long as you feel a stretch. Swap sides.
Hip flexors (front of the hip)
From a lunge position, with the left foot forward, take your right knee to the floor with the lower leg extended behind it (the knee well behind the hip) and the toes facing down. Tighten the tummy muscles and extend forwards from the hips, until your left knee is at 90 degrees. You should feel a stretch along the front of the hip joint and thigh. Swap sides.
Calves (back of the lower leg)
Stand facing a support, feet a stride length apart with back leg straight and front leg bent. Press the back heel into the floor so that you experience a stretch in the middle of the calf muscle. Hold. Now bring the back leg in a little, bend the knee and flex the hips, so that the stretch moves down to the lower part of the calf and Achilles tendon. Swap sides.
Hips and glutes (bum and outside of thighs)
Sit against a wall with legs outstretched. Cross your right foot over your left thigh and put the foot flat on the floor. Now take your left arm around the right knee and gently pull it around towards the shoulder (rather than hugging directly to chest), sitting up tall. Swap sides.
Cat stretch (to stretch out the lower back)
Kneel on all fours with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Take a breath and as you exhale, carefully round your back, drawing up the abdominals and allowing the head to drop. Take a breath and then as you exhale, pass back through the neutral position into an arch, lengthening from crown to tailbone like a cat stretching. Round and arch slowly three times.
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