If you follow a training plan, you probably notice that your speed workouts and tempo runs include a few warm-up and cooldown miles. I remember years ago when I first started adding variety to my runs (beyond, you know, randomly pushing buttons on the treadmill), I was a bit surprised at the duration of warm-up and cooldown runs. Twenty minutes of easy running to warm up sounded crazy to me, even though I was running up to 8 miles at that point.
Warm-up and cooldown miles are a vital part of the workout, as important as the speed intervals or tempo miles themselves. Without a warm-up or cooldown, you risk injury and may not reap the full physiological benefits of the workout.
Why should you warm up before a run? A warm up gradually and gently increases your heart rate and breathing rate, so that you give your body time to adapt to the work load. By the time you pick up your pace to begin faster running, you are able to work more efficiently and the faster paces will feel like less of a shock to your system. A warm-up jog also loosens up your muscles by increasing blood flow to your working muscles, particularly your legs. Many runners say that they really don’t feel good in the run until 1-2 miles in. If you’re experiencing cumulative fatigue or soreness from a previous workout, an easy warm-up can alleviate the feeling of heavy, leaden legs so that your feel fresh and springy for your workout.
Warm-up miles also offer a mental benefit. It gives your mind time to adapt to the physical act of running. A hard workout such as mile repeats will seem a lot less intimidating once you’ve already covered a few miles and feel ready to go.
How do you warm up for a run? First, I recommend doing some dynamic stretches to loosen your joints and wake up your muscles. Dynamic stretches do not require a lot of time and can be done as your Garmin finds satellite signal or right before you hop on the treadmill.
After dynamic stretches, a good warm-up will involve 5-20 minutes of easy running. If you run shorter distances, 5-10 minutes will suffice as a good warm-up; distance runners will want to warm up for 2-3 miles, not just to add additional mileage to their week but to prepare their body for the longer duration of their workouts. Your pace should be very easy during the warm up run; your breathing should be light and you should be able to hold a light conversation if need be. As you warm up, you can gradually increase your pace while still maintaining an easy effort. Additionally, you can throw in a few strides to practice your turnover after your warm-up miles to further prepare for the demands of speed work.
After you complete your Yasso 800s or progressive tempo run, the temptation can emerge to skip your cool down. Why not just stop once all the hard work is done? Don’t give into that temptation, for a couple cooldown miles are as beneficial as the warm-up miles.
Why should you cool down after a run? The cooldown jog fulfills a variety of functions. A cool down run serves as a “shake out” for any lactic acid and other physiological by-products of fatigue. One or two cooldown miles will gradually lower your heart rate and breathing rate from faster running and return you to homeostasis. Additionally, a cooldown run will signal your body to stop producing adrenaline, lower cortisol levels, and switch into recovery mode. Without a couple cool down miles, your stress hormone levels may remain elevated for too long and interfere with the start of the recovery process.
How should you cool down after a run? Just like a warm-up, you should maintain an easy, conversational effort. The focus here is recovery, so if you are tracking pace, aim to run at the same pace as you would run a recovery run. Short distance runners can stick to a 5-10 minute cooldown, while distance runners will benefit from 1-3 miles of easy running. If you listen to music when you run, change from upbeat music to a softer, slower tune or turn off the music altogether to facilitate running at a gentle pace.
Adding 1-3 warm-up miles and 1-3 cooldown miles will also help you increase your weekly mileage and thus increase your aerobic capacity. Warm-up and cooldown miles will increase your endurance, reduce your risk of injury, and make your workout more mentally manageable and physiologically beneficial—so why not tack on a few to your next workout?
Questions of the Day:
How do you warm up and cool down from your run?
How long does it take for you to feel warmed up on a run?