Written by Stephen R. Santangelo and originally published in the Fall 2017 edition of the Trail Times newsletter.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? ~John Wooden
Many factors are essential in maintaining a healthy body to continue running the trails over the years and performing at your best during the racing season. Warming up and cooling down are probably the most neglected aspects of training – especially, for endurance athletes.
Designing a proper warm up takes as much planning as does a running program, and there will be much experimenting to find out what works best for you. If you sit at a desk job for eight hours each day, your body needs a greater adjustment time prior to a run. If you happen to have a manual labor job your body will not need as much preparation to get the body going.
There are five human bio-motor skills; speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and co-ordination. A dynamic warm up should address each of these factors, and by doing so, the chance of injury will be reduced.
Static stretching is not the preferred method of warming up the muscles, tendons and ligaments prior to a training session. However, if you happen to have a stubborn area, gentle static stretching is needed to help relax the tissue between bouts of dynamic stretching.
There are specific factors for incorporating a dynamic warm up on your training days and it’s also a great way to have an active rest day. A properly designed dynamic warm up will gradually elevate your body temperature to 102F. This is essential to stimulate blood flow through your entire system, not just to the muscles. It will flush toxins and bring in nutrients to the areas which need it.
Secondly, it stimulates the nervous system and helps prepare the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems for the upcoming work load, by doing so, with the release of adrenaline. Igniting your central nervous system could be the key to maximizing your performance at race time. When all of this is activated the joints are filled with the necessary fluids to absorb the shock of each foot contact and the tendons are ready to accept the ground force throughout your runs.
The most frequently asked question is, “How long should a dynamic warm up be?” There isn’t one answer. Factors which will determine what is appropriate include; age, level of fitness, any previous injuries, climatic conditions and everyday life style choices. Experiment to find out what works best for you. Some days your body responds fast and other days it just doesn’t want to get going. At times, one side will be more flexible and some days the posterior and anterior chains will vary in flexibility. Warm up instinctively. Do not count reps; go with what your body is telling you based on the aforementioned factors.
The cool down is just as important as the warm up. Not only does it help loosen tight muscles from running, it prepares the body for the following day’s training. A cool down should relax the muscles, tendons and ligaments, slow down heart rate and respiration, shut down adrenaline and cortisol, and relax the central nervous system for the peripheral sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to balance.
Recovery is the key to do what you love doing and doing it as long as you can. It’s also what enables you to rebound faster from intense workouts and get back at it the following training session. While it’s natural to assume injuries are related to muscle or tendon problems, there’s a good chance that they could be related to neural tension.
Neural tension refers to the nerves’ inability to move energy, effortlessly, through various channels of the body. Nerves become loaded during a run just as muscles, tendons and ligaments do. Neural tension occurs when this process is compromised. Running is an extremely repetitive motion and it’s easy for certain parts of our structure to become overloaded with stress. It is a natural reaction for the body to tighten by shortening the muscles, therefore, blocking the nerve impulses and diminishing our body’s ability to recovery.
Gentle static stretching and slow controlled breathing, such as yoga, work well. And if the weather is cool, it is advisable to put on sweats after a run prior to cooling down. Foam rolling provides also another benefit for restoration, and can be incorporated into a stretching. The protocol is the same as with warming up. Find what works best for you as far as chosen stretches and how many.
Be passionate about all aspects of training. There’s much beauty on the trails to enjoy as long as you can. So, make time to take time to do it right and keep running those trails for life.