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The sun is shining and the wind is blowing gently, the perfect conditions for an outdoor run! You lace up your shoes and bolt out the door faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-metre dash. You’ve picked a challenging pace that forces you to really push yourself, but you’re enjoying every second of it because it’s nice to finally get outside. That is until tomorrow morning rolls around and it feels like someone took a baseball bat to your calves and quads. Ouch!

In today’s blog post, we’ll be covering the science behind warming up properly and give you a blueprint to go from your desk chair to road-ready safely!

The definition of a warm-up can be found in the name itself - the intention is to create heat or warmth within the body by getting your blood flowing and delivering oxygen to your resting muscles. In other words, a warm-up is priming your body for the coming exercise or activity to ensure that you can perform it safely and efficiently while recovering quickly. We want to ensure that we have moved our joints through the full range of motion to ensure they are ready to bear the load, if you are weight training, or they are capable of enduring long distances through running or cycling. The best type of workout prepares both your circulatory system by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood, increasing circulating blood volume and adequately prepares your respiratory system.

The Purpose of a Warm-Up:

  • Increase blood flow to working muscles
  • Increase range of motion in joints
  • Prepare the heart for increased activity
  • Increase internal body temperature
  • Mentally prepare athletes for the work ahead of them

The Benefits of Warming Up:

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and want to sprint out the door and warm up as we go in our run. But the risk far outweighs the benefit of skipping a warm-up when it comes to running. Warming up not only helps to increase your body and muscle temperature making it easier for them to contract and relax while performing such strenuous movements but it also drastically reduces one’s risk of injury! By increasing your body and muscle temperature, you increase the elasticity rate of the muscle and greatly reduces the risk of pulling a muscle or rolling an ankle. The last benefit and one that I personally experience the greatest benefit from a warm-up is the mental preparation. Oftentimes individuals struggle to set aside work or their personal life and be in the moment. Having a pre-programmed warm-up allows you to mentally tune into your workout and as the kids in High School Musical would say, “Getcha’ Head In The Game.” *insert musical notes here!*

Designing Your Perfect Warm-Up:

Just like a perfect workout, one that is balanced symmetrically and incorporates various muscle groups, there are key elements needed to ensure athletes have a safe and effective warm-up. The first element is time. A thorough warm-up should be between 5-10 minutes. The longer the workout ahead, the more time the athlete should invest in mobilizing their joints and increasing their body temperature. The second piece is the activities selected should mirror the work that is to be performed. An athlete who swims in open water doesn’t need to spend a significant amount of time stretching their calves as a runner would, but rather their back, shoulders and ankles. That being said, warm-ups should be general so that nearly anyone can feel primed and ready for their workout and only have to add a few additional movements or minutes depending on their sport.

The Perfect Warm-Up For Runners:

  • High Knees
    • Start in a standing position. Bend your left knee and bring it up to hip height as you shift your weight into your right leg. Bend your right arm and raise your hand to the height of your ear. Lower the leg and arm down to the starting position and switch sides. Once you feel comfortable, start to pick up the pace and move quickly between sides.

  • Heel Kicks
    • Start in a standing position. Lean forward slightly so that your hips are hinged. Bend your right knee and try to kick your right glute behind you. Switch legs and kick with your left. Once you feel comfortable, speed it up alternating between sides after every kick!

  • Lunge with Side Stretch
    • Start in a standing position. Step back with your right foot bending both knees until they reach a 90-degree angle in each. Hold your balance as you reach your right arm up into the air and slowly lean to the left to feel a stretch down the right side of your body. As you inhale, pull your body back up to standing and step back up as you exhale. Repeat with the opposite side.

  • Single or Double Leg Glute Bridges
    • Start laying flat on your back. Bend both knees so your feet are resting on the floor. Lift your hips up off the ground and squeeze your glutes together. As you inhale, lower your hips back down to the ground. Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions. For a harder variation, extend one leg off the ground keeping it in line with the hip as you perform the exercise with one leg!

  • Air Squat with Hip Rotation
    • Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees, sending your hips back and down as you sit in the bottom of a squat. If you cannot squat to full depth, ideally below parallel, practice sitting down onto a chair or couch and then standing back up. Once standing, bend your right knee and raise it to hip height, then externally rotate the hip by bringing it out to your side. Draw a circle with your knee as you lower the leg back down to the ground. Squat again and then alternate between sides.

  • Jumping Jacks
    • Start in a standing position. As you inhale, reach both arms up overhead as you jump your feet to the side. As you exhale, lower both arms down and jump the feet back together. Repeat this exercise for 30 seconds. 

There you have it! The perfect warm-up to get you road or sidewalk ready for your run! Take your time warming up by performing each of the exercises for 30-60 seconds and be sure to check into your warm-up to “getcha head in the game!”

Lindsay Mustard is a Holistic Nutritionist, firefighter-in-training and recipe-wizard with a burning passion for health and fitness. In her nutrition practice, Lindsay works with clients to craft a unique plan that is tailored to their specific health goals using a natural, whole food and supplement approach.

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