The importance of a warm-up prior to exercise cannot be overstressed and should be the first part of every training session. It raises the body temperature and prepares the muscles, nervous system, tendons, ligaments, joints and cardiovascular system for the exercise ahead. A good warm-up also reduces the risk of injury through greater muscle elasticity and increasing the heart rate.
It is not advisable to rush straight in to a run as this tends to shock the body and increases the risk of injury and muscle tears. Think of your muscles as sticks of chewing gum - when you take it fresh out of the packet it tends to be very brittle, but once popped into the mouth and chewed for a few minutes, allowing it to warm up, it becomes pliable and stretchy.
Your warm-up should be carried out immediately before the run – starting slowly and gradually involving all the muscles and body parts used.
Walk the walk
Walking should be the first exercise of your warm-up routine. Just walk slowly for three to five minutes. This circulates the blood through all the muscles, warming them and providing greater flexibility for stretching and exercise.
It is a good idea to accompany this with arm circles or shoulder rotations. This helps promote flexibility in the upper body, gets the cardiovascular system to get into gear effectively and prepares for the movement of the arms when running.
After walking, warm the muscles further by running slowly for three to five minutes. The run should start out slowly and gradually increase in speed. Remember, the sole objective of this phase of the warm-up is circulating the blood and warming the muscles in preparation for more strenuous activity.
Prep stretching aids the transfer of blood to specific muscles and a critical part of the warm-up. A flexible muscle is a stronger and healthier muscle. Strong, healthy muscles respond better to exercise and are better able to resist injury.
Prep stretches only need to be held for five or so seconds as that’s all it takes to get the flow of blood into the muscle. The muscle groups to stretch before running are the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, neck, shoulders and triceps. Simply hold your stretches at the point of tension (where it feels tight, but not painful) for about five seconds before moving onto the next muscle group.
Warming up properly will ensure that your body is optimised for its best performance and will ultimately make running more enjoyable. Remember, it’s not meant to be easy – but it shouldn't hurt either.