This week: Do you really benefit from warming up before a run – and if so, how hard and how far should you go?
"How far, or for how long, are you supposed to warm up before a race? The more I warm up the better I seem to perform. I ran a 5.4-mile road race about eight weeks ago, but because I needed the mileage I also ran five miles to the race – and did the 5.4 at my fastest-ever pace by a long way. Then I did a half-hour jog before the Flint 10K and battered my PB and felt great. Why?"
Your best answers...
- It takes two miles before my body realises I'm not going to stop! – Noel Jones
My planned warm up is normally about 10 minutes before starting on a run. Your questions made me think, though. On a 10 mile threshold run I often don't comfortably settle in until after about four miles. The rest I normally run faster, or it seems easy in comparison with the first few miles. When I set my 10K PB (David Lloyd 10K in October) I also ran about three miles to the start, so I did the race fully warmed up. From my experience, your theory of a long warm up is correct. It will be interesting to see what others think. – Chieftan Tank
Convention suggests that a couple of miles' easy running plus four or five 100m stride-outs is what's needed, for both racing and training. At the start line you should be sweating and your heart rate elevated (60-65% of max). However there are two reasons why this rarely happens: at the start of big races you need to get into position and are probably waiting 10-15 mins for the off, by which time the efects of the warm-up are wasted. Secondly, and more personal to me, the effect of my nerves before a race are such that I can hardly put one foot in front of the other prior to the start of a race. If the race is 10 miles plus, then the warm-up isn't that crucial. But at 10K and below, if you're looking to run well, a decent warm-up is essensial. Interestingly in his book Running Formula, Daniels suggests that a very vigorous warm-up (ie two miles at race pace) is very effective. He suggests that this is worth trying in a race of little importance to see if it's effective for you. – Tom
In my personal training days I'd always advise a 5-10 minute warm-up. It warms muscles, lifts body temperature and prepares the body for increased blood flow and oxygen use. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to regulate its fuel type and settle into a routine of clearing away lactic acid, using oxygen, replenishing energy stores etc. If you don't warm-up prior to a race or training session, you have to do it during the session, and this can have a major impact on your time. People say they want to conserve energy before a race, but I read somewhere that the body (liver) stores up to about 2,000 calories in glycogen. At marathon pace consumption you'd hit the wall at 20 miles, but if you're doing, say, a 10K at 7-min miles there's plenty in the tank for a gentle warm-up provided you're used to the mileage.
Also, don't overlook the cool-down. Gradually reduce your heart rate to reduce blood pooling in our veins and muscles, which can (I think) cause issues such as varicose veins. We're also supposed to re-establish our muscle length by stretching, because constant contraction during exercise causes them to shorten, though personally I don't like it. I know a 50+ year-old who taught over-50s aerobics who complained that post stretching caused knee pain. – Craig Llewellyn
I'm 37 and I've been running seriously for five years – several marathons, half marathons and other races – and I have never either warmed up or down. Ever. I know this goes against some people's principles, but I don't care. I've never missed a run through injury, because I've never been injured. I've never even had a "niggle". I just go out the door, run, get home, stop. My warm-down from a long run consists of making a shake, then drinking it. In my honest opinion, the obsession with warming up and down comes from personal trainers in gyms who spend most of the hour you pay them making you stretch. I must admit my first mile is always my slowest as I get up to speed, but I feel that's only natural. – Matty Fowler, by email
Before the Thanet 10-miler recently, I'd never warmed up before a race. I'd focus on conserving as much energy as possible. But I arrived late and had to jog five minutes to the start, then set off about 30 seconds later – and it made a huge positive difference to my nerves, initial pacing, heart rate and also energy levels. I'm now a convert to the pre-race warm up! – Treacle Tart
The shorter the race, the longer the warm up. For a 5K you'll see me doing a couple of miles so I'm ready to run fast as soon as the gun goes. For a marathon I'll manage a gentle stroll to the toilets. – Mister W
It normally takes me about three miles to feel comfortable. However, as 90% of my races are half or full marathons, I doubt the extra three miles would do me good overall, so I just use the first three miles of the race to warm up. – Mrs Nessie
As a triathlete, I find I'm usually able to run pretty well after getting off my bike, because I reckon I'm thoroughly warmed up. – Ironwolf
- For my next race I'll certainly be doing a much more extensive warm-up. Last road race I did at Caernarfon, I got to the venue too late and only had time for a few strides. Felt very uncomfortable when the race started, and this lasted to about 6K. Had the same problem, to a more limited extent, in the XC race I did recently. – Mike S
- The real advantage of a one-mile warm-up for me is being able to stretch profitably. Stretching my muscles cold is like trying to stretch wood, and I know which end is likely to snap first. I find half marathons and above a real struggle to get round, so I spend my time beforehand doing pilates or tai chi. A quick check on upper body flexibility seems to help, too. A few minutes calling psoas (lower abs) and other core muscles to attention helps too. Stepping on spiky balls before putting trainers on is also a good one – I find it helps wake my feet up. I guess the most important thing is to try lots of things, because what helps and what doesn't is a pretty personal matter. – Stickless
As well as warming up before the race, I've also found that running the first mile or so at c.30 sec/mile slower than target pace, then picking up in the second miles, works for me. I've found it helps me hold my target pace much longer and avoid slowing towards the end of the race. It probably works as a second warm-up, but without the usual 10-15 minute break before the race actually starts. – David Jones
- I've never warmed up for long enough, mostly due to shocking time-keeping or queuing for the loos. But at my last 10K I was there early enough to do a more vigorous warm-up, and got to the start line with a bit of a sweat on. I ended up knocking a minute off my PB from the previous month. Nothing more than light jogging before any half or full marathons, though. – Gold(star), frankincense and myrrh
- My pre-race routine is the same for all events shorter than a marathon: 1. Get out of car, do 5 minutes very gentle jogging. 2. Go through a full stretch routine. 3. Run another 5 minutes, this time at a faster pace, with heart rate close to what I aim to run in the race. 4. Get back in car/tent whatever, and chill for a bit. 5. Get changed into race kit, then do another c.5 minutes steady with three or four quick progressive accelerations – no idea why I do this, just always have. 6. Make my way to start line. 7. Add 5-6 trips to the toilet and I'm there. Marathon is slightly different: just limit it to two 2-3 minute easy jogs with the stretch in between. I've no intention to go off hard from the start, and can "warm-up" as the race starts. – Go-KL
I'd agree that marathons don't need a warm-up, and 5K and 10K races definitely need warming up for. The more interesting question is the half marathon. I've never been one to warm up for a half, other than to amble round in a half-hearted jog to ease the nerves. However, for the Henley Half I was very late due to a huge traffic jam. I had to jog, and then run, and then run quite hard to get to the start on time. I was nicely warm at the start; simply a continuation of my run. I did a PB even though I had a very nasty stitch during the last three miles. – SilkTork
- I'm a running and triathlon coach, and I generally get my athletes to run at least a mile before doing dynamic stretches, then running drills before each training session. For recovery runs you don't really need to do this, as the first part of the run should be nice and steady, but for harder running sessions or races you definitely should. It is true that a triathlete can run almost as fast off the bike as you can on the flat. My fastest 10K off the bike was 32 minutes, similar to my normal 10K times. – Ralph Hydes
- This could be why I run better later in the day: my whole body has been on the move and functioning better. I did a training 10K last Saturday morning and struggled, then a 5-miler with serious hills one weekday afternoon and felt great. I also notice that after about the first 10 mins it all gets easier. – scriptor
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