Warm-Up and Cool Down Exercises for Runners

The arrival of Spring is always a welcomed time in Chicago and an opportunity for many of us to return to our favorite outdoor activities, like running. By implementing a proper stretching and warm-up routine to your running schedule, you can dramatically reduce the probability. These 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down exercises will help you minimize stress throughout your workout and prevents radical shifts in blood pressure.

All of your runs should begin with a proper warm-up and end with a proper cool-down. Warm-ups are important because they open up your blood vessels which increases the blood flow and oxygen supply to your muscles. It also increases your muscles temperature which allows for optimal flexibility. Lastly, a proper warm-up slowly raises your heart rate which minimizes the stress on your heart once you start your run. The cool-down is just as important as the warm-up. It keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Suddenly stopping running can cause dizziness because your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly. By  gradually slowing down, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease less drastically.

You should dedicate 5-10 minutes for your warm-up and 5-10 minutes for your cool-down.

Do not begin your warm-up with stretching because stretching cold muscles can lead to damage. You should perform 5-10 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise to warm up and loosen your muscles prior to your run. Examples of low intensity warm-up exercises are brisk walking, slow jogging, or cycling on a stationary bike. After finishing your run, cool-down by walking or slowly jogging for 5-10 minutes. Perform a thorough stretch after your run. Areas that should be targeted are the low back, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and groin. Examples of ways to stretch those muscle groups are described below.

LOW BACK Stretch: sit on the ground with your right leg crossed over your left. Put your left arm over your right knee and twist your body clockwise (over your right shoulder). Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on other side. Perform exercise on each side three times.

CALF Stretch: get in a push-up position but place your right foot over your left foot and stick your bottom up in the air and try to flatten your left foot. You should feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on other side. Perform exercise on each side three times.

QUADRICEPS stretch: while standing, grab hold of a stationary object such as a wall for balance with one hand and use the opposite hand to grab the right leg around the ankle, lifting it towards your bottom. Make sure you keep your back straight and do not allow your knee to drift in front of the leg you are standing on. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Perform exercise a total of three times on each side.

HAMSTRINGS stretch: stand upright with your feet together. Bend forward at your waist and let your arms hang down towards the floor. Make sure you keep your knees straight. Hold for 15-30 seconds and then return to neutral. Repeat two more times.

GROIN stretch: sit on your bottom and place the soles of your feet together so that they are touching and your knees are sticking out to the sides. Try and move your heels as close to your groin as possible. Also, try to have your knees as close to the floor as possible. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and then return to neutral. Repeat two more times.

By performing a thorough warm-up and cool-down like the one described above, you are much less likely to suffer from running injuries and will be able to get greater benefits from your run.