Linking current research to running
By Nikki Reiter
You often hear that it’s important to warm up for a variety of reasons surrounding injury prevention and optimal performance. Have you ever wondered if your warmup is helping or hindering your performance? Are you doing too much that you’re wasting valuable energy? Or too little that you haven’t warmed up enough?
Warming up at a higher intensity has been associated with an increased ability to work at a higher %VO2max, in a subsequent effort (i.e. a race), meaning you can use oxygen to exercise longer before you go ‘anaerobic’. Of course, the warm up protocol will be different based on the running event. An ideal warmup for a marathon is much less rigorous than for an 800m track race. Researchers in Denmark evaluated the intensity of the warm up protocol on a four-minute maximal test to determine how to best prepare for maximal performance.
Here’s how it went: 12 highly trained male cyclists (sorry runners, but cycling is much easier to control in the lab) performed three different warm up protocols, each lasting 20 minutes before their four minute maximal performance test.
Strategy 1: moderate-intensity exercise + 6 min recovery
Strategy 2: progressive high-intensity exercise + 2 x 20 sec sprints + 6 min recovery
Strategy 3: progressive high-intensity exercise + 2 x 20 sec sprints + 20 min recovery
The result: The most detrimental warm up protocol for performance was Strategy 2, then Strategy 3. Engaging in a race pace warm up (progressive high-intensity) increased blood lactate levels (an indication of acidic by-product in the blood that can hinder skeletal muscle performance). Power output was lowest for Strategy 2, however VO2 was highest, indicating a general ability to work harder using this warm up protocol.
What this means: The traditional method of jogging prior to a race has merit for individuals racing approximately a mile (closest race distance to four minutes). It would appear that doing ‘too much’ is quite possible if race pace warm up + strides + inadequate recovery prior to the race is observed. The authors suggest cutting back on one of, or a combination of, these three components. Special attention should be made to how much recovery is being observed between the warm up and race.
A final comment: Whether strides before a race have a physiological benefit has yet to be determined, but psychologically, they can build confidence to get in a short bit of work at race pace (or faster) in order to feel ready to go at the gun!
Nikki Reiter is a Biomechanist and certified NCCP Performance Coach in Endurance Running. She offers online gait analysis through Run Right Gait Analysis. Visit her website www.run-right.ca for more information.