Workout Wednesdays: Before the Workout

Workout Wednesdays usually feature a fabulous running workout for you to try on for size. But this week, I’d like to put the spotlight on what happens BEFORE the workout.

Preparation is key.

Preparation is key.
(Image courtesy of Steve Moore & gocomics.com)

So what’s the big deal with a warm-up? Well, it’s actually fairly straightforward, even if people want to ignore/argue with me about it.

In the very simplest terms, a warm-up has less to do with 3 things:

  1. Accessing energy
  2. Getting blood to the muscles
  3. Increasing the amount of oxygen in your body

At rest, your body’s main job is to keep your vital organs going. Yeah, blood and stuff goes to your muscles, but not nearly the amount needed to jump up and run a marathon at a moment’s notice.

Your heart, your lungs, your muscles, and your energy systems are basically asleep.

clipart heart 4

So what happens if you don’t warm up? Basically, you run out of gas cuz you opened the tank too wide in the beginning. No gas = muscles fail = THE WALL. Your body goes into high gear way to fast, uses way too much energy to get you going, and you bonk.

–Runner’s Bonk verb \ˈbäŋk, ˈbȯŋk\ To hit a wall; a sudden fatigue or loss of energy.

I love this movie. (Image courtesy of Entertainment Cinema, New Line Films, & Warner Bros.)

I love this movie.
(Image courtesy of Entertainment Cinema, New Line Films, & Warner Bros.)

In order to access all your energy stores, and to keep accessing them throughout the longer miles, you MUST warm up. Go easy for at least 10 minutes, if not 2 full miles. After your warm-up you can do your dynamic drills and strides and what-not, but you NEED to be warm to get the most out of your drills.

A solid warm-up also allows your lungs to catch up and increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and your muscles get enough fuel and oxygen to function at a higher capacity.

Without a warm-up, your body will be playing catch up for your entire workout. That doesn’t put you in a position to do your best work, obviously. For a marathon, the first 2 miles can serve as your warm-up, unless you’re an elite or sub-elite runner. In that case, your warm-up happens before the race.

Kara warms up. She's kind of a big deal. (Image courtesy of Raymond Britt & runtri.com)

Kara warms up. She’s kind of a big deal. (Image courtesy of Raymond Britt & runtri.com)

Don’t believe me? Stand at the start line of a marathon and watch the elites go out for some strides. They’re already sweating by the time they get to the line. They warm up.

Take this pledge with me:

“I (state/write your name) do solemnly swear to warm-up before every run, no matter the distance.”

Now go out and run!

The Stretch Question

Is it better to stretch before, after or during workouts?

Ahhhh…to stretch or not to stretch, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the minds of fitness addicts everywhere to stretch at all in order to avoid suffering a the slings and arrows of hamstring misfortune.

You can take the girl out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the girl, ya’ll.

Back to the question and my answer.

After or after warm-up, unless it is active stretching. I never stretch before I run.

Two types of stretching: Active and Static. Active stretching is the kind that happens while moving (think yoga) and static is the standing still and stretching. Active stretching involves flexing and extending the muscles while moving in various directions, allowing for increased blood flow and, in turn, further extension of the muscle fibers. Static stretching has its place, but only after your blood flow has been increased via a mile or so warm-up.

Why?

Well, stretching muscles that aren’t “warm” (ie. your blood flow and heart rate haven’t been increased for any period of time–walking doesn’t usually do it) doesn’t allow for increased flexibility. In fact, yanking at “cold” muscles will likely do the opposite of stretching them and they probably won’t lengthen out the way you’d like them to do. Even more of a bummer, the effects are short-lived and don’t increase flexibility beyond a few seconds or minutes at the most.

Static stretching is ok, too, but only under certain circumstances. You want to have started to sweat at least a little bit before you start any kind of stretching. Warm up for a mile or so and then take 10-15 minutes to get your stretch on while your muscles are still warm. I find that after a long, hard run (like the marathon this weekend!), static stretching is really all I have energy for. It MUST be done while you’re still warm, though, and before your muscle fibers have a chance to shorten and adhere to one another post-workout. You have about a 10 minute window where you can get the most benefit out of stretching post-workout.

Active stretching, like in yoga class or in a dance warm-up, involves constant movement in a variety of directions that get your heart rate up and both flex and extend each of your muscles groups over the course of about 15-30 minutes. This can be used as a warm-up to a run or a cool down from a run. For example, running to a yoga class is a great way to get your workout on and then lengthen those muscles long-term. Making this a regular (weekly) part of your fitness routine will provide more flexibility in your muscles and joints and help prevent injury.

In short, stretching is good, but you’ve got to make sure your body is prepared for it. At least, that’s my opinion of how to get a good stretch on.

Now go out and run!