It is the age-old question, should you do a warmup before you start running your designated time or miles and should you do a cool down after your run? I am positive it will always be debated just like the type of warm up – static vs dynamic – will be. While I am a firm believer that dynamic warmups can most definitely ONLY benefit your run or walk, you must KNOW your body and understand what warming up and cool down does for your body. With that, I’m not going to get all technical with exercise science but I will give you the ins and outs of the WHY you should include both warm ups and cool downs into your run or walk routine.
Let us start with the basics. What does a warmup do for your body? First it gets the blood flowing to ALL your muscles and entire body. Your muscles need the blood to function. Remember that lesson back in health class? Your muscles use oxygen to move and the only way they get it is through your arteries. Do not forget your muscles are also sending back de oxygenated blood through your veins. By simply swinging your legs, your muscles are telling your brain which in turn tells your cardiovascular system – send me some oxygen! This simple motion of your muscles requesting more oxygen increases your heart rate (your heart is the muscle that pumps all the blood) which in turn raises your body temperature. I am not talking a HUGE increase in your heart rate or body temperature – BUT these slight increases are WARMING your body and dilating your blood vessels (more on that later). Therefore, by doing these dynamic movements your body is ready for the increased heart rate, muscles in need of oxygen and body’s natural defense to keep your body temperature lower (aka sweating).
Now that you have read that – lets discuss dynamic vs static warmups – plus I have already thrown those words around. 😊 Dynamic is moving your body – aka range of motion – like the activity you are about to do. For example, in the video below you will see me swinging my legs and connecting opposite knees to elbows. These are movements that closely resemble running or walking.
Static movements are not really movements. Static is the traditional stretching you are accustomed to seeing. This is when you for example, reach down and touch your toes, hold it for a count of 10 and then stand back up. While these stretches are still beneficial – they are better utilized as a cool down method – which I will address in the next paragraph. Theses stretches help to ensure blood flow continues and resumes to your muscles – which assists with recovery/soreness while improving your range of motion aka flexibility.
Similarly, just as dynamic, and/or static movements prep your body, those simple movements can also assist your body resetting back to a pre workout state. Why do you want to ensure you return to a pre workout state? Cooling down or bringing your breathing, heart rate and body temperature down ensure that you are assisting your blood vessels in reducing their dilation. Having dilated blood vessels for an extended period increases your chances of passing among other health issues. Ever stand up too fast? That feeling is from moving too quickly before the blood has flowed to those parts of your body. Do not worry – you ALWAYS have blood flowing throughout your body. 😉 Furthermore your dilated blood vessels which have increased the flow of oxygen to the muscles you’re using (for runners/walkers that’s your quadriceps, calves and hamstrings) has also reduced the flow of oxygen to other parts of your body that don’t per say need it during your run/walk. These would include but are not limited to stomach, intestines, and kidneys. This is also why you often feel cramps in your stomach/intestines (constricted blood vessels) during and after you finish your workout. The blood vessels throughout your body are returning to a similar diameter as oppose to being either constricted or dilated. While I could go on and on in more detail because exercise science is cool, I will simply conclude with….
While warming up and cooling down has advantages- they should be used based on how YOUR body feels during and after your chosen activity. While some runners can ‘cold start’ – put the sneakers on and run – as an avid runner, hiker, and physical education teacher, I HIGHLY recommend doing some sort of dynamic warm up and cool down. Even simply walking 2-5 minutes prior to your run or walk will greatly increase the productivity of your workout. Do not forget it can also reduce the likelihood of a sustaining an injury.
I have included a video below of my 4 go to dynamic and 1 static moves I use prior to running. While I am sure this topic will always be debated – try them out and let me know! Join this conversation over on our social media accounts:
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P.S. these are beneficial to all activities that raise your heart rate and focus on whole body movement – they are not limited to just running. I encourage you to try them before your next hike and see the difference in that first mile 😉