learning – the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study or by being taught. 

If I’m proud of myself for one thing, one thing alone, it’s my never ending desire to learn.

But, learning always comes at a cost. Learning has a dark side. If you learn something which challenges your current mindset and, you in fact, change your opinion on a topic, it turns out you were wrong…

It turns out, I was wrong.

As a coach, I struggle with this very concept. I’m sure I will explore this topic more as time progresses, however I wanted to look at a very specific example were I’ve shifted my mindset, admitted I was wrong, and changed my ways.

The warm-up and cool down as it relates to running.

If I heard your sigh of annoyance, I don’t blame you. Warming up is certainly not interesting, sexy or interesting-sexy (which has to be better since it’s a combination of the two).

But, as Coach Jay Johnson said in a Running Times article

You can go a long way toward meeting the goal of reducing injury by doing some simple exercises before and after you run. Just give me 15 minutes: five minutes before, 10 minutes after.

My thoughts on the warm up have morphed over the years from bobbing for apples and running slow, to a more deliberate, dynamic warm up focus.

Bobbing for apples

I don’t know where the switch came for me standing around, bobbing up and down like a red and white piece of plastic awaiting a fish to strike. I guess it came from following suit of the more experienced runners who I learned from.

I missed – or better yet, maybe ignored – the other runners who wandered off and did their own thing. All the while, we stood around and did the same, generic static stretching like everyone else.

Bend over, touch my toes, good lord it’s early, holy hell I’m stiff.

But, I thought this was the way to go!

I’d wander around a bit, shake some hands, kiss a few babies, do a few more of those bouncy, bouncy toe touches and the grab your leg and pull it in front of you and voila, time to run.

I forget exactly when it was, but I soon realized this was ridiculous. Why the heck am I even wasting time doing it? Seriously.

Just run, man.

My next foray into warming up was to run easy for two miles or so. Seems easy, right? Easy, sure, but I still felt like the tin man in desperate need of WD-40. Not so much as how my joints felt, but my mind couldn’t get into the run. I’d eventually shake it out, but by then, the run was over.

If four of those miles were me warming up and two were cooling down, when the hell did I actually work out?

Back to my soccer roots

Soccer practices growing up were a great example of dynamic stretching. Pre match rituals aside, we would line up across the touch line and complete a wide array of jogs, sprints and plyos from sideline to sideline. Butt kicks, side steps, hurdles, we covered the gamut.

That was followed by a few small sided exercises where you would play 5v2 or 6v2, get a lot of touches on the ball and move freely in space with a few moments of explosive movement coupled with easier jogging or multi planar movements (a fancy word for saying moving front and back, side-to-side or in a twisting motion).

Aside from the random coaches who would make us static stretch sitting in a circle while we sang Cumbaya, dynamic stretching was the norm. We defaulted to it ourselves when our coaches let us lead practices.

I started to add in some of my old soccer drills, and felt better and more adapted. Hurdles, skips, jumps made me feel ready for my run, instead of waiting for the run to warm me up.

What would an elite do?

The many elite runners who came and went served as my research subjects. I simply asked myself, “What would an elite do?”

There was nothing difficult, ground breaking about the answer from a practical perspective. The real surprise was how it flew in the face of what I see practiced on a daily basis.

95% of runners I see start with static stretching. Bobbing up and down, touching toes, you know, the norm.

The elites stretched dynamically, all the time. They would do some sort of combination of the two items.

  1. Dynamic movements – jumps, plyos, side to side movements, squats, lunges, A, B, C skips.
  2. Running – some runners start easy and keep it easy, others start easy and slowly increase the speed until hitting a moderate pace to ensure the legs are fully dialed in.

My trial and error

A few months prior, I began using the three routines below and went back to my normal soccer routine. Personally, they help me feel more in step with running and in tune with my body when I head out the door. I have modified them somewhat to fit my own needs, including adding in walking leg raises and some hip raises and single leg squats to feel my glutes respond.

The exercises I added in here a Glute Bridge with a Theraband and Lateral Band Walking with a Theraband (You can see the exercises here)

The opposition to warming up is plenty. Naysayers who scoff at the dynamic stretch and continue to static stretch are marching to the beat of their own drummer. Or cries of “I don’t have time!!” In their case, if they have been doing it for 20 years, good on em. It’s become a routine at this point, which goes beyond the stretching.

They are also the group who used to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow.

In the ultra world

The ultra crowd lean towards warming up during the race. Taking the first few miles slower than normal is a good idea in general, but I find for races which start off immediately with a big climb or descent, warming up prior is a necessity. In this case, I extend my running warm up and find some flat ground where I can run strides or pick ups to raise my heart rate. This helps to take the brunt of the shock which happens when we hit that early tough climb straight away.

Time is of the essence

Humans have mastered the art of cramming too much into our schedule. An hour run is an hour, and asking an athlete to spend more time than they have is not happening.

In this case, and as Coach Jay hints at above, I’d rather an athlete who has only an hour to run…

  1. Warm up 5 minutes
  2. Run 50 minutes
  3. Cool down 5 minutes.

Lunge Matrix, Cannonball, Myrtl

For me, Jay Johnson leads the way in the most easy to understand videos and routines to get warmed up. They are simple, effective and pretty tough for beginners.

The first is the Lunge Matrix, proposed by physical therapist, Gary Gray and adapted by Jay Johnson. Coach Jay adds in a lunge with a twist.

Cannonball

The second is  Coach Jay’s cannonball routine. It takes a little over five minutes and is a fantastic addition to a warm up. You can also use it as a quick workout or even as a cool down. I feel it functions best as a warm-up.

Cannonball Cool-Down from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

Myrtl

The third it the Myrtl, which I use as my cool-down because of the focus on the hip girdle. If I’m feeling sore in the hips after a run, this cool down really helps target those problem areas.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on warm ups, especially from those in the mountain/trail/ultra community!

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