By Cora Tomowich, MScPT, Hons B Kin
Welcome back to my discussion of running! In my previous piece, I spoke a bit about running footwear and some general things to consider when selecting a shoe. We learned that choosing a shoe is based on many factors and should be a very individual thing. It is also important to note that when it comes to minimalist versus maximalist shoes, each serve their own purpose in either short- or long-term use.
Today, I would like to discuss the topic of running warm-ups and cool-downs; specifically two types of stretching that are used for both. The first type is static stretching (SS), which involves the passive stretching of a joint and is usually held for 20-30 seconds. The second is dynamic stretching (DS), which involves the active movement of a joint and is usually held for 2-5 seconds per several repetitions. DS is fluid, continuous, and based specifically on the movement or activity to follow. Think of it this way: SS is like Yin yoga – slow and sustained stretches, while DS is like a shorter and less-intense version of the eventual workout. Both serve a purpose but cannot be used interchangeably.
Studies show that, when performed directly before a run, SS can actually increase the risk of injury during a run, worsen delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a run, and have a negative impact on overall speed and endurance. Research also shows that pre-run SS does not increase skeletal muscle temperature (which is the entire goal of a warm-up); so what’s the point of even doing SS at all?
Well, I did a little digging and found some information to clear things up. Experts say that regular SS can help prevent running injuries if done at a distance from the run itself. This means that if you perform those sustained quadriceps and hamstring stretches at least 2-3 hours before the run, you can help the body protect itself during the run. SS can also improve flexibility if performed at least 2-3 hours after the run. Clinically, I recommend doing SS first thing in the morning or right before bed; this way my runners reap the benefits and avoid the injuries!
So the question begs: what is the recommended warm-up and cool-down directly pre- and post-run? Experts suggest the use of DS, which helps a runner perform at his or her best while also reducing injury risk. DS is designed to mimic running gait phases so to gradually quicken heart rate, improve body awareness, and increase skeletal muscle temperature. DS will also increase muscle oxygenation, improve mobility of active joints, and prepare the nervous system for movement patterns used during the run. In terms of a cool-down, DS can also help with recovery by decreasing the overall intensity and duration of DOMS.
Some sample exercises that can be used as part of a runner’s DS include walking lunges, brisk walking, light jogging, and ABCs/ABCDs. Personally, I also do some rapid eccentric loading exercises for my calves, just to avoid repeating a strain injury I gave myself a few years ago – but that’s another story for another time. ABCs/ABCDs are also a favourite of mine because they literally separate the phases of running into its component parts. Depending on the source, different experts have created different phases, but here’s the general idea:
- As/A-skips involve a high knee-to-chest motion with push-off from feet
- Bs/B-skips involve hip flexion, knee extension, and ground contact
- Cs/C-skips involve powerful knee and hip extension with strong propulsion
- Ds/D-kicks involve deep knee flexion forcing the feet upward to kick glutes
Here are some video links that help demonstrate the ABCs/ABCDs:
I always prescribe DS as part of a warm-up and cool-down. Before each run, I tell my runners to begin with 2-3 minutes of DS, then a brisk, 5-minute walk, and then move gently into a run at a comfortable target pace. Keep in mind, DS is designed to prepare the body for a run, not to fatigue it – so don’t overdo it during your warm-up. Directly after the run, I recommend gradually decreasing running pace back to that of a brisk walk for 5 minutes, then gently repeating some of those same warm-up DS drills for approximately 30-60 seconds before coming to a complete stop.
If you ever have any specific questions regarding your individual running warm-up, cool-down, etc., I suggest booking a visit with your friendly, neighbourhood running specialist! Stay tuned for my next piece, which will provide a general overview of running habits.
- Dubois B. The Running Clinic [website] http://therunningclinic.com
- Behm D.G, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011(111):2633-51
- Fletcher I. Anness R. The acute effects of combined static and dynamic stretch protocols on fifty-meter sprint performance in track-and-field athletes. J Streng & Cond Res. Aug 2007(21):3