Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting the warm-up right

How do you warm up for a race or workout? If you're like most high school and college runners, your warm-up is probably not too far off from Joe Rubio's humorous characterization of the typical runner's pre-workout routine

"10-15 min easy. 4 half-hearted strides. BS a bit. Run the workout"

This might be sufficient if you're a novice runner.  But if you're at all serious about competitive running, it's well worth the time to take your warm-up more seriously.  Today, I'd like to take a look at several elements of the warm-up and consider how a more advanced runner might use them to his or her advantage.

To be clear, the purpose of a warm-up is to get your body ready for the demands of the workout (or the race).  Because of this, different workouts or different races will necessarily demand different warm-up routines, as will different individual runners.  If you warm up for a 10k the same way you warm up for a mile, you probably need to reconsider your warm-up routine.  In this article, we will analyze several elements of the warm-up routine and discuss various ways to modify them based on the situation.

1.  The warm-up run

The first and most obvious part of a warm-up routine is the warm-up run itself.  The most basic and most common way of doing this is 8-15 minutes of easy running.  This can be modified in two directions to suit your needs: you can either do more running (20-30 minutes, for example), or you can do some or all of the warm-up run at a faster speed. 

Running at a higher intensity near the end of your warm-up routine primes your body for a sustained effort in a workout or a race.  If you jog a bit, do a few short strides, and start doing a workout like 8x1000m at anaerobic threshold with a minute rest, you'll find that you don't feel your best until the second or third repeat.  That's because your body wasn't fully revved up for the first one.  Like starting a car engine cold, you naturally feel off-kilter during your first few minutes of faster running.  If a workout or a race is important to you, it's vital to get this off-kilter sensation out of the way before it starts. 

Now, it's not mandatory to do faster running during the warm-up run.  I do think it's mandatory to do some sustained faster running at some point during the warm-up as a whole, but it can also come in the form of a medium-length repeat done before or after strides, which we'll discuss later.