One of the biggest mistakes I see runners make is forgetting to stretch. If they’re outside, they often just head down the driveway and go, or if they are inside, they hop on the treadmill and hit start. They completely forget to warm-up.
Warming up is important because it prepares your body for the workout ahead. A good warm-up consists of not only stretching your muscles, but also doing some gentle cardio work.
When it comes to stretching, the trend is moving away from doing static stretches where you hold a muscle in an elongated, fixed position for 20 seconds or more and towards dynamic stretching, which uses controlled leg movements. These moves improve range of motion, loosens up muscles, and increases heart rate and blood flow – which will improve your run.
Here are a few dynamic stretching exercises you can try out. Remember to start slow and focus on form. As the moves get easier, you can increase speed.
- Skip for about 30 to 40 feet, gradually increasing the height and range of each skip.
- Side step or shuffle 10 feet to the right and then to the left. As your legs warm up, increase the amount of ground you cover with each shuffle.
- Do the grapevine – that’s where you step your right foot to the right, then step left foot behind the right foot. Do that for about 20 feet in one direction and then switch.
- Alternate butt kicks and high-knee steps. First walk forward with an exaggerated backswing so your heels hit your glutes, doing 10 reps on each side. Then walk forward raising your knees as high as possible, again for 10 reps. Both moves together stretch your quads and glutes.
- Walk like a toy soldier keeping your back and knees straight, lifting your knees straight out in front and flexing your toes. Do 10 on each side.
Finally, walk gently for three to five minutes before you start your run. When you’re finished, again walk for a couple of minutes to help your body cool down. By warming up, you’re getting your body ready for the run ahead and lessen your chance of injury.
Kim Kandler is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-New London.