Ahh, the age-old stretching debate. It’s one for the ages in running circles: whether or not it’s imperative to stretch before (or after) your run. For those in the “aye” camp, it’s touted as the fool-proof way to avoid injury and improve flexibility, whereas for those in the “nay” camp, it’s simply a waste of time. Whatever your outlook, here are some simple ways to warm up for your run and then cool down, that won’t take a lot of time.
Warming up exercises
Briefly, a warm up is about preparing your body for what it’s about to endure, and ensures that you aren’t going into tough physical activity cold. This prevents unnecessary strain or injury. Here are a few things you can do before your run to get your body primed and ready to go:
Jog: A gentle two or three minute very slow run will help warm up your legs before you quicken the pace for a sustained period of time.
Stretch: Don’t moan just yet, the truth is, this is what’s going to keep you limber. Prop up one leg on a nearby fence or something tall and lean into your stretch to lengthen those hamstrings and glute muscles, as they’re the ones that should be doing most of the work. Stretch out your arms side to side, and your lower back, just so you’re as loose as you can be.
Quick moves:Things like high knees, walking lunges and sumo squats can help prep your body for a long run. Try 30 seconds of each, and cycle through each exercise at least once.
A common mistake for runners is thinking that hydrating is only for after they’ve finished a run. In reality, it’s just as important to do it before you even head out for one. If you’re not properly hydrated before a run, your performance will suffer, and you could even fall victim to dehydration. A good tip for a hot day is to make a slushy with your favorite energy drink to gulp down in advance of your run. If you want to take some liquid out with you, fill a bottle halfway, freeze it, and then top it up with fresh water just before you head out.
Cooling down exercises
Warming down is important to flush out any lactic acid that has built up over the course of your run and to stretch out and realign muscle fibers to maintain flexibility. Again, it’s also to ensure you don’t get injured.
Walk: Don’t abruptly finish your jog and then call it a day. Do yourself a favor by keeping your legs going for even a couple of minutes afterwards by walking to the nearest lamppost, or an extra couple of hundred meters. It will help get your heart rate back in rhythm and stretch out those tired legs.
Drink water: Hydrating after a run helps replenish all the water you’ve just lost. As a general rule, try to consume at least 250ml to 500ml of liquid one to two hours after a run. Better yet, try an energy drink, coconut water or electrolyte drink to replace all the electrolytes you just lost.
Stretch (again): Even if you’re pressed for time, it doesn’t take long to cycle through a few of these after a run. You can even do some of them as you’re walking home. Try to do at least a shoulder rotation, glute stretch, groin stretch, hamstring stretch and calf stretch to keep the key components of your run up to scratch.
Foam roll: We know, it’s painful. It hurts and people tell you it will get less painful each time you repeat it, and you swear that’s a bald-faced lie every time you do it. But according to experts, it’s absolutely doing you good. For starters, it’s helping you recover faster so you can hit the pavement stronger next time. It also breaks down knots which limit flexibility, and encourages circulation. The best thing to do is to take your roller (you can pick one up for Dh50 on Souq.com) and roll out each part of your lower body (calves, quads, bum muscles and hamstrings) while doing something mindless like watching TV. Foam rolling can also help you warm up too, as your circulation gets going, prepping your muscles for a workout.
Feature photo: Unsplash/Scott Broome
Ashleigh Stewart is a New Zealand journalist, who has spent much of her career on the health beat, focusing most recently on mental health and wellbeing. She has worked in Japan, Indonesia, America, and has spent the last two years in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. She's also an avid outdoorswoman and runner, having completed her first marathon in Dubai in 2017.