Running safely means proper warming up, cooling down and stretching exercises. Here's how to do it.
Have you run to catch the bus, run to the shops before closing time or run for your life from a crocodile who wants your lunch? Crocodiles aside, chances are you have, and chances are you woke up stiff the next day. With proper warm-ups and cool-downs, your runs will be exceptional—and pain free.
Here are some exercises to switch up your repertoire and help you prepare for a safe, injury-free run.
Before you hit the road, track or trail
Your warm-up sets the tone for your run. A proper warm-up can lead to faster interval times and less pain and discomfort during your run, and it can save you from needless injury. A good warm-up slowly and gently lengthens and shortens your muscles, pumps oxygenated blood through the body, increases your internal temperature (which promotes sweating) and catalyses the excretion of synovial fluid to protect your joints.
Rather than a static stretch, which has been shown to be ineffective as a singular warm-up tool, use these dynamic warm-up exercises to prepare for your run.
Cartoon walking lunges (1 set of 12 repetitions)
Muscles activated: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus medius
- Without shrugging your neck muscles, raise your arms straight overhead. Leave them there for the entire exercise.
- To begin, take a step forwards with your right leg that is half the distance of your maximal stride length.
- While maintaining a perpendicular spine, drop your left knee so it comes within centimetres of the ground.
- As you stand, shift your body weight forwards on your right foot.
- As you come back to a standing position, raise your left knee as high up to your chest as possible.
- After a momentary pause, step forwards with your left leg, assuming the same stride length as your right, and repeat exercise with your left leg. This counts as one repetition.
Ninja crawls (1 set of 10 repetitions per side)
Muscles activated: abductors, adductors, gluteal muscles, quadriceps, calves
- Toes should remain pointed out at a 45-degree angle or greater during the entire exercise.
- Lower yourself to a half squatting position while keeping your upper body perpendicular.
- Leading with your right toe, take a large step directly to your right, landing heel first and winding up on the flat of your foot.
- Without changing the degree of bend at your knees, drag your left foot so feet are hip-width apart.
- Repeat with the same foot 10 times and then repeat with the left foot 10 times.
Caterpillar walk-ups (1 set of 10 repetitions)
Muscles activated: core, chest, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings
- Begin in a push-up position on your toes with your hands beneath your shoulders.
- Without bending your knees, toe-walk your feet as close to your hands as possible, consciously pulling your hips up to the ceiling.
- Walk your hands forwards as far as you can, taking as small steps as possible, and without moving your feet, flatten your body so it’s parallel to the ground.
Hopscotch drop squats (1 set of 20 repetitions)
Muscles activated: quadriceps, gluteal muscles, calves, shoulders
- Begin by balancing on your right foot with your arms at your sides.
- Drop to as low a squatting (seated) position as possible, focusing your weight in your heels and ensuring that your knees do not waver in and out, but stay over your toes.
- As you drop, allow your arms to swing out in front of you, up to shoulder height.
- After a moment’s pause, jump back to standing position. Repeat, this time balancing on your left foot. This counts as one repetition.
Cross-Body Mountain climbers (1 set of 30 repetitions)
Muscles activated: abdominals, chest, quadriceps
- Begin in a push-up position on your toes with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Maintain a small bend in your elbows throughout the entire exercise.
- Without touching your toes to the ground, step your right knee as close to your left elbow as possible.
- Return your right foot to starting position.
- After you’re back in starting position, step your left knee as close to your right elbow as possible and then return to starting position. This is one repetition.
Note: Feel free to do this as fast as you can, almost hopping to change feet. The key to maximal abdominal activation is to keep your hips as low to the ground as possible.
When done properly, there’s no downside to stretching. The critical component is knowing when to apply each particular type of stretch, which will determine how effective it is as a performance and flexibility enhancer. For instance, pre-run, one would employ the dynamic warm-up provided earlier in this article.
Post-run, when the muscles are already heated up and have been shortened and lengthened, we benefit most from traditional static stretching.
Of course, you cannot reap the benefits of stretching without actually stretching. Under the premise of a time crunch, we (I do this too) often skip stretching, but in reality it is as important as your cardio or weight training. It will help keep you limber, functional and able to maintain your runs long into your twilight years.
After your run, be sure to refuel with ample water and carbohydrates. But before you decide to put anything in your mouth, go for an easy walk for about five minutes to cool your body down naturally and prevent venous pooling in your calves.
Stretch it out
After your walk, it’s time for a nice, relaxing stretch. Try holding these modified yoga poses for 2 sets of 30 seconds each to get a thorough whole body stretch.
Stretch focus: calves, hamstrings, latissimus dorsi
Stretch focus: abdominals, chest, biceps, scalene (neck muscles)
Stretch focus: latissimus dorsi, erector spinae
(2 sets of 30 seconds per arm/leg)
Stretch focus: hip flexors, chest
(2 sets of 30 seconds per leg)
Stretch focus: gluteal muscles, hamstrings