I probably ask this question more than any other… It’s not my favourite question, but the response can be quite telling.
Anyone who has ever worked with a running coach or fitness instructor will be familiar with the structure of the session: warm-up; main activity; cool-down; stretching. The duration of each section will vary depending on the overall goals, but every session will follow that format, whether you’re doing mile reps at the track or a dance aerobics class in a studio.
Lived and reported experience tells me that it’s the warm-up that’s often neglected when we are left to our own devices. A proper warm-up can be a quick fix to some annoying problems, such as running out off puff early doors or niggles which seem to ‘go away’ as the session progresses. In the case of the former, a warm-up which raises the heartrate slowly before the start of the main session will prepare the body without putting it into shock. In the case of the latter, preparing the muscles by including appropriate movement patterns could avoid niggles and, ultimately, injury.
So what should you include in your warm-up in order to make it effective? Largely, it depends on the aims of your main session, but there are two main elements: increasing the body temperature; dynamic stretching exercises. Both elements should be focussed on the aims of the main activity, preparing the mind, as well as the body, for what lies ahead.
The CV (cardio-vascular) warm-up is the part that gets your heart pumping and your breathing a little more heavy. For runners, this could be brisk walking or a light jog: start gently and gradually increase the effort required. This could also include some mobilisation activities, such as arm swings, to begin to get the joints moving more freely.
The dynamic warm-up is the part that encourages the muscles to start to work together efficiently, rehearsing for the main session. For runners, it’s useful to include activities which will activate the big muscles in the lower body, such as squats for the glutes, lunges for the quadriceps and sweeps for the hamstrings. This element may also include drills which match the activity to be performed (skips and running technique drills, for instance).
Whatever you include in your warm-up, it’s worth spending time doing it well.