Runners are a different kind of human.
To many, pounding the pavement mile after mile seems like a death sentence. However, to a competitive runner, those treks on the track are vehicles to achieve something amazing. Many athletes use running as a means to enhance sport performance, whereas track or cross country athletes must view running as the performance itself. Regardless, no athlete (or coach) would turn down the opportunity to run faster and safer.
Whether it be a 100-meter sprint or a 5k through the woods, the task of running is quite technical. After all, the human anatomy was born to run. So, the question becomes, how can athletes run faster and do so with fewer injuries?
Coaches and athletes largely agree on the importance of warming up. Increasing the heart rate and elevating body temperature allows our muscles to recruit more force in the movement. However, the movement for movement’s sake is not good enough when it comes to optimizing running. For this reason, we must employ a running-specific warm-up.
Without further ado, here are 3 principles runners implement in creating an appropriate warm-up program.
Move-in Other Planes of Motion
Running is inherently a “forward and backward” movement. In the medical world, we refer to these kinds of motions as those within the sagittal plane. While watching someone run, you’ll probably notice the shoulders, hips, and knees all bend and straighten in the forward and backward directions. There is very little twisting or side-to-side motion that occurs. This is purposeful. After all, the goal of running is to get from Point A to Point B by moving forward as quickly as possible.
That said, all athletes should be competent in both twisting and moving side-to-side. These movements are inherent to sports like basketball and soccer because cutting, pivoting and sliding are common. All too often though, they’re neglected within a runner’s tool box.
Having stronger, more active muscles producing these motions can help reduce injury while also promoting greater efficiency and running economy. We’ve all seen runners whose pelvis twists too often or whose feet flare out after leaving the pavement. Greater strength is crucial in producing quality movement, yes, but it’s also vital to resisting unwanted movement.
Plan Some Plyometrics
Too often, coaches will program warm-up regimens that include steady-state cardio of low intensity. In these cases, warming up to run fast looks like warming up to run slow. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s not necessarily right either.
Programming plyometric training before running is an efficient method of raising the heart rate and activating muscles in multiple planes of motion. Injuries to the hip, knee, or ankle occur too frequently because athletes are not prepared with the necessary tools to absorb force appropriately. By performing plyometric exercises before runs, athletes will be better prepared to avoid injury and improve running efficiency.
- Lateral hopping
- Lateral hopping on a single leg
- Jump rope
- Ladder drills
- Box Jumps
Perhaps the only controversial principle on this list is to stretch sparingly. Don’t get me wrong; stretching does have its place. However, by and large, coaches prescribe stretching far too often.
Quite a bit of research has come out lobbying against stretching as it pertains to performance. Holding a static stretch does not show improvements in force production, and in many cases, it could even reduce it. You might be thinking, running a 5k isn’t exactly a forceful proposition. However, because running 5,000 meters is performed more slowly and deliberately than 200-meters, optimal performance still requires optimal force production.
Read More: Dynamic Warm-Ups for Runners and Lifters