One thing we’ve concentrated on during physical therapy is effective movement preparation and active recovery options. I know I’m not the only runner who does not properly warm-up or cool down before/after every run. Sure, I may “ease” into my runs most times by doing the first mile a minute or so slower if I’m lucky, but that’s not a really great warm-up tactic. I’m guessing the majority of recreational (read: non-elite/pro) runners do not properly warm-up or cool down before exercising and that’s funny to me. It’s funny because if you go to any race, you’ll see people (including myself) partaking in dynamic stretching, short strides, some very easy miles, etc. before the start because we know it’s important for our bodies to be warm prior to doing exercise; that is when we function best. So why don’t we use that knowledge during all physical activity? Shouldn’t we always want to function at our best?
Below are some of the exercises I’ve learned which I incorporate into my movement prep, which takes about 10 minutes depending on how I’m feeling on the given day. They are also great to add into any workout as functional training to strengthen glutes and hip flexors, stabilize the pelvis, plus focus on core strength and diaphragmatic breathing during exercises.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. These are prescribed exercises from my physical therapist which are based on an analysis of my running form, injuries, and the areas I need to improve. While these can be beneficial exercises for many, only a licensed professional can determine a plan that is right for you.
- Reverse Lunge with Stretch
- This picture is accurate except my rear leg comes closer to the floor and the reach doesn’t involve the twist in the torso. As a runner, twisting with my torso during the stretch is counter-intuitive to my goals for my form.
- Essentially you are taking a giant step back and bringing your opposite arm overhead, stretching back through the torso. Hold for 5 or so seconds, once you have your balance. To come back to front position, push off with the back foot and bring arm down. I do about 5 on each side prior to running.
- I’ve discovered the more I’ve worked on this stretch, the better my balance gets. My left side (the “broken” one) takes a little more time to regain balance, but now my core is actively engaged during the entire series and it is rare that I lose balance when stretching.
- Mini Band Walks
- As an exercise, these are somewhat of a prehab – prevention for injury. A large part of my problem was the weakness in my hip flexors and glutes (and weak glutes are a huge problem for many runners which cause overcompensation in other muscle groups, leading to some of the most common running injuries from ankle and foot pain to IT band problems, and more).
- For all of these walks, I use a green mini band above my knees and a yellow one around my ankles.
- No matter which type of walk you are doing, you want to keep your core tight and activated and avoid collapsing your knees at any point. It’s fairly obvious if you are not collapsing because it does not take very many steps before your hip flexors are on fire.
- If I’m doing these as an exercise, I’ll travel about 10 feet in all directions (forward, backward, left, right) and do it twice. If I’m doing this to warm-up prior to a run, I’ll do about 5 feet in all directions just once and possibly even less if I feel it in my glutes and hip flexors.
World’s Greatest Stretch
- There are plenty of variations to this stretch if you Google around, this one mimics good running form and also provides somewhat of a power drill during the push-off.
- You want to sink down as low as possible without touching the floor with the leg that is behind you. Hold here for a few seconds.
- Raise the same hand as your forward knee into the air (if your right knee is forward, you lift your right hand). Your hand and arm are straight in the air, your torso turns slightly, and look up towards your hand. Hold here for a few seconds.
- Bringing your hand back to the floor, hold for a few seconds.
- When ready, push off with the foot in the back, driving your knee up like a still frame of high knees. Your opposite arm is in the air as though you’re mid arm pump during a run. Think of running form here: your opposite arm and leg are forward at the same time.
- Return back to your start and continue with the opposite leg.
- I do this about 5 times on each side before running and usually as my last piece of movement prep. I’m convinced it’s the reason I’m sore in weird places after my runs.
After exercising, especially running, I also have a set of cool down (regeneration) exercises after that run/walk cool down which consist of foam rolling and stretches with a rope, among other things like proper nutrition. You never notice how inflexible you are (when you thought you were flexible enough) until you do stretches with a rope and notice one side (typically the one that’s always nagging at you) doesn’t move the same as the other half.
What type of warm-ups and cool downs do you incorporate into your exercise regime?