Part 1: Warming Up Properly
By Chris Lauretani, PT, MS, CSCS, CKTP
Running injuries affect nearly 50% of recreational runners at some point over the course of a year, however that number can jump to almost 90% during marathon training. Overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, ITB tendinitis and patella femoral syndrome can lead to unwanted downtime during crucial training periods. Once an injury occurs, a runner’s primary concern shifts off training and must be refocused on recovering. This reactive treatment of an injury is necessary and part of every athlete’s recovery process, but wouldn’t it be great to proactively prevent a large number of these injuries from happening in the first place?
This is where training is taken to a place that many runners fear…. valuable free time spent on something other than running. Many runners, both elite and recreational, feel that every single second of training time should be spent running, but if you want to stay injury free, it is essential to devote part of your weekly routine to proactively preventing injuries. This can be accomplished in part by warming up properly and participating in flexibility training, core / strength training, and cross training.
“Warming Up to Warming Up”
The scene before many training runs and races is the same: runners balancing on one leg, grasping their foot and stretching out. But isn’t a quick static stretch, defined as holding a muscle in an elongated position for 20 seconds or more, better than not doing anything at all? Not necessarily. The latest research in professional journals such as the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, suggests that static stretches have a neuromuscular effect on the muscle’s performance and may actually decrease strength in the stretched muscle group during activity. Some studies and theories suggest that this induced weakness can lead to injury and reduced performance. I feel that static stretching still has its place in a well-rounded flexibility program, just not before a workout. Static stretching can be utilized on recovery days when muscles are warm, after a workout or when focusing on increasing flexibility in a specific muscle group that may be recovering from injury.
Recently, more healthcare professionals, coaches and trainers have been utilizing dynamic warm-ups to better prepare their athletes for competition. Dynamic warm up activities utilizing a neuromuscular effect on the body, can provide short term gains in muscle flexibility by dampening the body’s reflexive muscle contractions. These reflexive contractions are what some believe to be the root cause of muscle strains. The dynamic warm up I provide to my athletes includes movements of the entire body and in most cases, multiple joints at once. The routine as a whole is comprehensive and can take 10-15 minutes to complete, but when finished, you will feel loose and ready to transition right into your run or slow jog warm-up progression.
Some Important Points to Consider:
- Perform these exercises with pace, meaning do not perform them slowly. You are warming up for an aerobic activity and these exercises should be completed with enough pace and vigor to get your heart rate up and work up a sweat.
- Pay close attention to your posture. Try to perform each of the standing exercises upright with good posture and with your core muscles activated for added balance.
- For lunging exercises, be sure to keep your knee over your ankle. Do not let your knee translate forward in front of your toes which will cause unwanted knee stress.
- The dynamic warm up should take place no more than 15-20 minutes before your run
The following is a description of each movement and how it should be performed:
DYNAMIC WARM-UP EXERCISES (10-15 MINUTES)
Standing Knee to Chest Leg Swing
Stand with hands on a wall and feet back and flat on the ground, begin by swinging your knee up into your chest and back behind you while vaulting up onto the opposite toes at the same time as the leg swing, perform this movement 15-20 times on each side before switching, be sure to swing your leg through the full range of motion with a rhythmic pace
Standing Knee to Opposite Elbow Leg Swing
Stand with hands on a wall and feet back and flat on the ground, begin by swinging your knee up and across your body to your opposite elbow and back behind you while vaulting up onto the opposite toes at the same time as the leg swing, perform this movement 15-20 times on each side before switching, be sure to swing your leg through the full range of motion with a rhythmic pace
Standing Leg Swing to Side
Stand with hands on wall and feet back and flat on the ground, bring one leg out to side as far as possible and then swing that leg across your body crossing in front of the planted leg, repeat 15-20 times on each side, be sure to move through the allowed range of motion
Standing Forward Hurdlers
Stand with hands on wall and feet together on ground, bring one leg up and out to side and forward toward the wall or fence as if it is the trail leg over a hurdle, perform 15-20 times per leg
Begin standing upright, walk forward with an exaggerated backswing, knee bend and hip bend until your heel approaches your glutes, alternate legs as walk, once you become comfortable with the movement, try jogging with the same movement, perform this over a distance of 50-100 yards
Kneeling Hip Thrusts with Overhead Reach
Kneel upright on one knee with your hands on the floor inside your front foot, slowly but rhythmically push hips forward until a stretch is felt in the front of your hips (hip flexor), at the same time reach overhead with both hands and arch your back, repeat 15-20 times on each leg with caution not to push hips too far forward causing too much stress on your hip flexor
Kneeling Overhead Reach
Kneel upright on one knee with your hand on the ground, slowly but rhythmically reach overhead towards your opposite ear with the opposite arm until a stretch is felt along your trunk, repeat this movement 15-20 times on each side throughout the available range of motion
Kneeling Donkey Kicks
Get into an All 4’s position with your hands and knees on the ground, while keeping a slightly arched back, kick one leg backwards while maintaining a 90 degree knee bend (“L”), perform this movement with pace mimicking a donkey kicking, perform this movement on each leg 15-20 times
Start standing with feet together, step forward using a long stride bending both knees, but keeping the front knee above the front ankle, be sure not to allow the front knee to move past the ankle, also be sure not to allow back knee to contact floor, while in the lunge position, maintain an upright trunk and keep your abdominals tight, perform 10-15 lunges on each leg
Side Plank With Leg Lift
Lie on your side with top arm’s hand on your hip and bottom arm supporting your body weight through your forearm, keeping feet together, lift pelvis off of ground while bearing weight through your forearm, at the same time lift the top leg towards the ceiling and return back to the floor, repeat 15-20 times on each side
Push Up With Claps
While in push up position, perform half of a push up (not all the way down) and while rising back to start position, clap both hands together quickly and return back to push up position, if a push up is too hard to complete, try a modified version by kneeling, perform 5-10 push up claps over 2 sets if necessary
Chris Lauretani, PT, MS, CSCS, CKTP is the founder of Symmetry Physical Therapy in Westchester County, New York. As a Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner, Chris works extensively with runners of all levels while serving as a sports medicine consultant to numerous professional athletes, organizations and running clubs.