Warm Up or Just Go Out & Run?

It is incredible how many times this question comes up. I am often astounded by the fact that with all the research and information that is out there now people still believe this is a question they should be asking. My latest theory is that they are maybe searching for the person who says they do not need to warm up so they can save themselves 15 minutes in their running programme. Apparently 75% of runners out there do not complete a proper warm up prior to their run. What do we know;

A recent study in Journal of Strength & Conditioning found that a dynamic warm up prior to a run enabled runners to sustain a harder effort for longer while running on treadmills.

We know the warm up prepares our body for exercise, raising the heart rate and preparing the muscles for activity, you are also loading the tissues which helps them prepare for the activity ahead.

There is plenty of research about injury prevention and warm ups, none of which conclusive proves that the warm up prevents injury occurrence. This is definitely worth keeping in mind, we are not warming up to prevent an injury!

So I have put my body on the line to help you understand how it can affect your performance. Essentially I know that my hips are generally tight, years of rugby, cycling, triathlons and cricket have taken there toll, nothing irreversible just not looking after my body when I was younger as I should have been. Anyway after breaking my wrist earlier this year and then sustaining a shoulder injury training has been all over the place this year. So I thought it was a good time to complete a little experiment on my training.

Below you will find a 5km run completed on the 16th July this year, my second run back after injury. What happened before is important, as I had decided I needed to go for a run or I would not train that day I had a short lunch before team training so needed to maximise the window I had. I did what most runners do I headed out the door and ran my 5km, speeding up as I could but essentially trying to see where I was at pace wise.

The picture might be small but the main note was the time 26.09. I knew my fitness was down but what had happened I always run under 25 minutes for 5k. There was nothing for it I had to go out again two days later and see what had happened. This time I had time – I prepared, I got my warm up routine going involving loading work, activation for my lateral glut muscles and ankles, I completed both static quads and hip flexors and then dynamic work to make sure the area that is so tight was prepared for the run, I even included about 800m of gentle warm up running too. Now in two days there was no time for fitness to change, I ran the same course, one was pre lunch the second one later afternoon (so I had been sitting at my desk for longer) but essentially the same run.

So what was the effect…..the same run completed almost 2 minutes quicker! Now you might not be focused on your running speed, you do it for fun to stay fit to enjoy some time away from your desk, the kids or just to get out of the house. Great I admire that fully and you should run for your own reasons. However what are the increases in the stress levels on your joints, muscles and tendons. In the second run my cadence would have been lower (it always is when I run slower as I am not a shuffle runner) and I would have been spending more time on the ground. As my cadence is slower I would tend to over-stride more and therefore land more in front of my body, increasing the stress through my ankles, knees and tendons. This was well explained in Irene Davis’ group who looked at 93 injured runners and 23 healthy runners. They found that the injured runners had a 28% higher Vertical Average Load Rate and a 16% higher Vertical Instantaneous Load Rate. That is a staggering increase in load for your body to cope with.

The good news is tissues adapt but there is always a stress point when they will struggle. This is when your injury risk increases and if you are injured you are not running, if you are not running you are not getting away from the the desk, from the kids or out of the house. So it doe snot matter if performance is not your goal, if your goal is just to run then your warm up is an essential part of your training session.

Note though if performance is an important part of your running and the goals you have for the season ahead then it is important to get into a good routine before every run. Again going back to the research the current thinking is that it takes three months to get into a good routine and notice the benefits if you complete your warm up before every training session. So plan to succeed and get your warm up set for you.

Happy Running