Pre Run Panic
Static stretching prior to sprinting will decrease your performance but has little effect on longer runs.
Dynamic stretching, plyometrics, and foam rolling has little to no effect on longer runs but can significantly improve sprint performance.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support that any warm-up activity will significantly reduce injury rate.
You’ve calculated that in order to get your run in for the day with enough time to shower after, you have to leave the house in… 2 min and 49 seconds. You quickly change into your running clothes, dash to the door, lace up your shoes, and off you go.
Although this flurry of activity is quite a common scenario for the average runner with a busy schedule, it neglects any pre run routine. The big question is: Do you need to warm up? Followed by: If so, then how?
While warming up for exercise may evoke memories of circling up in gym class and struggling to bounce alongside your classmates to try to touch your toes, this form of “warm up” has gone through some updates over the decades. First and foremost, bouncing, or ballistic stretching, is out. It can easily cause injury and is not recommended. Ever.
What about static stretching?
You may have also heard that static stretching (holding a stationary stretch >30 seconds) prior to exercise can be detrimental to your performance. While this is true, it is specific to when you are performing power exercises such as jumping, lifting, and sprinting. If you are headed out for a track workout, static stretching is only going to decrease your performance.
For long-distance running (or any run longer than an all-out sprint), the effects of static stretching are less clear cut. When studying well-trained men, recent research found that stretching prior to performing a 30 min “casual” run followed by a 30 min “performance” run, the group that statically stretched had worse performance and an increase in energy cost. However, when this same study protocol was performed with well-trained women, no difference was found between the two groups. Furthermore, this study, this study, and this study all determined that, when studying men, there was no difference in running economy or performance when statically stretching was performed prior to long-distance running. In general, there’s a small risk that it will reduce your running performance and certainly won’t help it. Probably best to just skip the stretch-and-hold prior to going out for a run.
But wait, wait, wait, will static stretching prior to running reduce your likelihood of injury?
No. Just as 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident, 6 out of 7 well-conducted research studies claim that static stretching prior to exercise is not effective in reducing overall injury rates.
So what should you do?
There is some good evidence that a dynamic warm-up (moving your joints through their full range of motion) at best, can improve your endurance and at worst, provides no benefit. Add in some plyometrics (jump training), and you can even improve your running economy (energy cost) as well. Want to give your sprint performance an extra boost, then definitely do some plyometrics and don’t be scared to whip out a foam roller as a recent meta-analysis demonstrates that doing some foam rolling pre-sprinting can actually improve performance.
Why do these techniques work?
A dynamic warm-up will increase blood flow to your muscles, improve the elasticity of your tissues so that they can more easily work through the required ranges of your activity, and increase nerve conduction to your muscles. Furthermore, it will whip up your central nervous system into work mode through an increase in heart rate and core body temperature. All of these effects will work to properly prepare your body for a workout and potentially reduce the likelihood of injury during your workout.
A plyometric warm-up supposedly will create a PAP (Postactivation Potentiation) effect that will improve your muscle’s ability to utilize nutrients, improve neuromuscular recruitment, and increase energy storage in your tendons and muscles that will assist with reducing energy consumption.
As for foam rolling, the research remains quite unclear. The most consistent hypothesis is that the foam roller breaks up small adhesions in the muscle often referred to as trigger points. Releasing these trigger points reduces the overall resistance that a muscle faces when contracting. While this theory may explain the improvements, the good old placebo effect cannot be ruled out. Hey, placebo effect is still an effect!
Want to learn how to do these?
Here's a dynamic warm-up that you can follow:
Learn some good plyometrics to get ready for that speed work!
Check out some foam rolling techniques to prime your muscles for power.
Making the connection
If we connect the dots between the recommendations for static stretching, dynamic stretching, plyometric warm-up, and foam rolling, we start to see that the recommendations for warming up change depending on the speed and intensity of your run. If you are headed out on a nice easy run, it looks like your warm-up honestly doesn’t matter that much. You can get away with doing static stretching without hurting your performance and while an active warm filled with dynamic stretching and plyometrics may be a nice way to ease into your run, it may or may not improve your performance or decrease your risk of injury. If, however, you are preparing yourself for a higher intensity run that includes some speed work, your choice in warm-up will matter as statically stretching will decrease your speed while dynamically stretching, performing plyometrics, and foam rolling will all help boost your sprint performance. Check out the table:
Easy Run I Speed Workout
Static Stretching I Static Stretching
Dynamic Stretching I Dynamic Stretching
Plyometrics I Plyometrics
Foam Rolling I Foam Rolling
Red: Can be harmful to performance
Yellow: Won’t hurt but not likely to help
Green: Will improve performance
Have more questions about warming up? Contact us here.