Whether you’re a weekend warrior who wants to sweat out the stress of the office, a health nut, or a part-time endurance athlete, you’ve felt the pain and stiffness that comes with running. Shin splints, low back pain, heel pain, and even shoulder pain are all common complaints from dedicated runners which most have resigned themselves to.
Running should only be painful in the right ways: the ways that invigorate you and reassert your faith in yourself. Walking away from a good run should come with the pride and accomplishment of overcoming your body’s innate desire to quit, not with the trepidation that comes from a lingering pain in your knee, or a sudden spasm in your back.
Just like eating vegetables or waking up early, proper warm-up and stretching routines are a necessary part of your overall health. As much as you’d rather stay up late and eat that new burger from the fast food joint down the road, and as much as you’d rather jog in place for a few seconds and get right into your workout, it’s important to stay consistent and do what’s best for your body.
Warming up before exercise has a long history. Ancient Egyptian paintings depict athletes stretching before competitions - and the premiere runners of the ancient world, the Greeks, were known to follow diligent stretching routines before every workout.
As our lifestyles have changed, and our days have become more sedentary and more oriented around sitting down, stretching and proper warm-ups have become even more important than they were thousands of years ago. Sitting on chairs compromises the lumbar spine by taking away the support that your back usually receives from the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes), and the abdominal muscles. Additionally, sitting for long periods of time causes your hip flexors, hamstrings, and other leg muscles to shorten and tighten, priming them for injury.
It’s especially important to take time to prepare your body for action on race days. There’s no worse feeling than having to quit in the middle of a race you’ve spent the last six months preparing for.
With that in mind, here are some good warm-up and stretching exercises to do on race days, and ones to do every day.
RACE DAY STRETCHES
On race days, it’s important to emphasize dynamic movement and to get yourself into a routine early. If you’re like most people, racing is scary. You might be too preoccupied with the upcoming event to think about your warm-up, but it helps calm your mind and mentally prepare for the race.
A good dynamic warm-up for the day of the event could be:
1.) 5 Minute Jog at Low Speed
Focus on your form and on keeping your heart rate and breathing steady.
2.) 3 Sets of 10 Lunges
Walk forward as you lunge, alternating legs. Keep back straight and your core engaged while ensuring that your knee doesn’t extend in front of your toes.
3.) 15 Bodyweight Squats
Brace your core and squat down in a controlled and purposeful manner. Engage your legs, not your low back.
4.) 10 Rolling Sprints
Start at a jog, and gradually increase to 80% of your maximum speed, then slow back down.
TRAINING DAY STRETCHES
Consistency is key! Slowly building up your body to be more flexible and to protect your legs and back from injury takes time - and dedication. Ideally, runners should stretch twice a day, every day. If this isn’t feasible, you should make sure to at least stretch and warm up immediately before and after a run, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
Here are some important stretches and exercises to do regularly:
1.) Seated Toe Touch
Sit down with your legs extended in front of you and your back as straight as possible. Hinge forward at the hip until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. If possible, touch your toes with your fingertips.
Start in a standing position. Jump in the air while keeping your legs extended, and when you land thrust your legs back and fall into a push-up position. Do a push-up, then jump back into the start position. Repeat.
3.) Quadriceps Stretch
Stand up straight and pick one leg up and grip just below the ankle. Pull your heel into your butt, while making sure to brace your core and maintain a straight back. Switch legs and repeat.
4.) Downward Facing Dog
A staple of yoga, this position is a great way to stretch the hamstrings, Achilles tendon, and calves. Get on all fours, and with hands and feet shoulder width apart, stretch your arms straight out in front of you and push your hips back until you feel a stretch in your calves.
Now you're muscles should be warm and ready to run. Enjoy the race! And make sure you've tucked an Ignite cloth in your gear to do a quick freshening up after the action - and before you head out for your after race celebration.