What you are doing immediately before and after a run is just as important as the workout itself. Are you adequately preparing your body for the demands that are to follow, and are you allowing your system to recovery appropriately after the work is performed? As most experienced runners know, things don’t really start to “click” until at least a mile into your run. This is because most of the sport-specific warm-up happens during those first few minutes of a light jog before the real workout begins. Taking a few minutes to focus on your ball-in-socket joints (hips and shoulders), as well as ankle and knee flexion, before the run will help you “hit your stride” sooner. Then, a good post-run stretch is just as much preparation for your next workout as it is recovery from the miles you just ran.
A good rule of thumb is to perform a dynamic (movement-based) warm-up before running, and save the passive (static) stretching for after the workout. When you think about it, it makes sense…leg swings, high knees and butt kicks are all opening your joints, promoting blood flow and conditioning your body for the act of running. Once you don’t need to run anymore, it is the proper time to focus on increasing range of motion and flexibility. You can use common stretches like toe touches and a standing quadriceps stretch or yoga poses like cobra and downward-facing dog.
Myofascial release is one of my favorite warm-up and cool-down methods. You can use a stick roller like Addaday or a Trigger Point foam roller before a run to promote blood flow and release unnecessary tension in the muscles. Post-run self-massage is also a create method to help break up any knots and move lactate buildup out of your system.
Your dynamic warm-up should take no more than 7-10 minutes total, and is helpful in preventing injury and maximizing the benefits of your run. When you are performing your static stretches, you should lengthen the muscle to a point where you are slightly uncomfortable but not in pain. Holding each stretch for 10-20 seconds will help minimize your risk of getting hurt, while holding it for longer than 20 seconds will increase your range of motion and flexibility. Unfortunately most runners skip out on the warm-up and the cool-down for the sake of extra mileage or due to a tight schedule. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often one of them! Taking an extra few minutes to bookend your run with the appropriate performance-enhancing practices will allow you to get more out of the day’s workout and feel more refreshed for tomorrows.