If you want to know how to improve your running performance, warming up wisely and taking time for a proper cool-down could make all the difference. Here’s how…

Hands up if you did at least five minutes of mobilising moves and pulse-raising exercise before your last run. Keep your hand up if you also finished with some gentle walking and static stretches. Kudos to you if your hand is still raised; if it’s not, join the clan. Despite evidence a warm-up will make most folk more efficient at running, or that a cool-down will enhance recovery and help guard against future injury, anecdotal data reveals a lot of us runners are skipping these pre-run rituals. But with recent research in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning showing that runners who performed dynamic stretches before a treadmill session were better able to stick with a hard effort than those who didn’t, perhaps now is the time to commit to limbering up pre-run.
On board? Jim Pate, senior physiologist at Marylebone Health (marylebonehealthgroup.com) reveals how to improve your running performance, and why you should do it.

Get hot

Why warm up?

Warming up before exercise benefits the body in several ways. First and foremost, warming up helps prevent injury. A good warm-up gently introduces the kind of loads the body will undergo during exercise. Starting slowly allows the muscles and cardiovascular system time to adjust to the new dynamic conditions. But a sudden application of intense load to a cold, static system can create shock overload, resulting in injury or poor performance.

Warming up increases body temperature, enhancing circulation and compliance of muscles and joints that will be working. Upon reaching optimal operating temperature, physiological processes are optimised for better exercise performance.

How long should it take?

A good warm-up will last between five and 10 minutes, challenge you – but not to the point of fatigue – and will be specific to the exercise undertaken. Slowly building up aerobic intensity over a short sustained period [for example, going from a fast walk to a
jog and then to a light run] is effective, as is dynamic mobility or ‘limbering up’ exercises [think, heel flicks, leg swings, etc].

Cardio warm-up

Start with cardio of your choice, such as a light jog, at a five-out-of-10 intensity. Build up to an eight or nine intensity over a period of about five-to-10 minutes, or start off at an easy pace for five minutes and then insert five, 15-second efforts to challenge your body over the last five minutes.

Muscular warm-up

Resistance training for running fitness? Mobilise the muscles and joints that will be involved in the exercise. If doing strength work, do a short half-set with a very comfortable weight before entering into the main working sets of the exercise. For example, do a few bodyweight squats before doing the loaded squats.

Strength workout for runners

Chill out

Why cool down?

Cooling down, sometimes called ‘warming down’, is an often overlooked but nonetheless important part of recovery. Once training is complete and your training goals have been achieved, good recovery is essential to maximise the benefits of the exercise. Cooling down is the first step in recovery following exercise. A short period of gentle aerobic exercise to cool down following an intense session helps clear accumulated lactic acid as well as supports the cardiovascular system to gently return to normal resting levels.

How long should it take?

Your cool-down should last about five-to-15 minutes, with body temperature and heart rate returning to near resting levels. Opt for static stretches to help improve your range of motion and allow good muscle development related to your activity. Warm, fatigued muscles like to accept change if held for about 30 seconds. A gentle ache is common in muscles being stretched and can abate later in the hold. Foam rolling tight muscles during a cool-down can help deal with problem areas.

Simple post-run cool-down

Start with five minutes of gentle cardio, such as a light jog or walk, then five mins of static stretching (quads, hamstrings, calves, etc). Sandwich five minutes of foam rolling between static stretches on problem areas, such as quads, hamstrings, calves, IT band and hip flexors, to really cool down like a pro.