Running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other. If you want to remain injury-free there are a few things which you should be building into your routine including: warming up, cooling down and stretching. The last of which is far more controversial than you might think!
A good warm-up is important as it prepares your body for the exercise it’s about to perform. It will increase the blood flow to your muscles, allowing more oxygen to pump round your system, it will also loosen up your joints and gradually increase your heart rate. Aside from the physical benefits of warm-ups of helping to reduce the risk of injury and improving performance, there are also mental benefits. Incorporating warm ups before your races helps to keep those pre-race nerves at bay, it gives you something else to concentrate on.
For a normal, everyday run where you’re not sprinting or covering long distances a short warm-up should do the job. Start off walking briskly for approximately 5 minutes. Walking is a great low-intensity exercise and it’s a good transition between the sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead to the active nature of running. If your training run is going to be of a higher intensity than normal, for example if you’re doing sprints or interval training, then doing some more active warming-up such as drills can also be helpful to bring additional mobility to your joints. Drills can include skipping and also some high knee drills, this involves lifting your leg so your knee is at a right angle (90 degrees) keeping your feet flat rather than pointed. Ensure that your back is straight and not hunched and repeating this 10 times on each leg.
Strides are a great final stage of warming up to loosen the joints, they flood your muscles with blood to make them ready for the transition between walking and running. Strides are essentially just short, fast runs. You can start with 50m strides, increasing to 100m as your training progresses. Once you’ve completed one stride then shake your legs out to loosen the muscles and joints again and repeat. When you’re doing these strides you should be focusing on power and speed. For your 5km training runs 3 x 30 second strides with a 1 minute recovery between each should be enough to kick-start your heart rate. Carrying out this warm up before a race should also help you to reach your correct pace sooner.
Aerobic and Anaerobic… During the course of the training plans I will be talking about aerobic and anaerobic exercise. So here I’ll give a brief explanation about what the difference is between the two.
Aerobic is another way of saying cardiovascular or cardio, so aerobic fitness refers to your stamina or endurance to carry out a certain activity. In aerobic exercise you are exercising with oxygen, it’s sustainable and can take place over a long period of time. Simplistically, the more you improve your aerobic fitness, the more endurance you will have and the longer you will be able to be active without feeling tired and out of breath. In order to improve your aerobic, or cardiovascular, fitness you will need to work within your aerobic target zone. This optimal zone is found between 60-80%* of your maximum heart rate.
In contrast anaerobic exercise involves exercising where your body’s need for oxygen outweighs the supply. So you are creating an oxygen debt which means that you can only continue for a short period of time. Anaerobic is short, high-intensity exercise, which increases your power, speed and strength. Sprinters generally use anaerobic training and marathon runners generally perform aerobic training. You anaerobic target zone is found between 80-100%* of your maximum heart rate. It’s important to note that the 90 – 100% range is exceedingly intense and you should only be working within this spectrum if you’ve been cleared by a physician to do so or if you already have a very high fitness level.
You will need to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) to find out how many beats per minute (bpm) you should be pushing your heart towards to in order to develop aerobic or anaerobic fitness. To calculate your MHR, subtract your age from 220. Once you have this figure you can approximate your ideal heart rate for aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
A great way of monitoring your improving fitness levels is to record the times that it takes for your pulse rate to return to your normal resting pulse after exercise, this is known as your recovery rate. To do this take your pulse 3 times during the day during a resting phase i.e. when you’re not undertaking any strenuous physical activity. The average of these three figures will be your approximate resting pulse rate. Take your pulse after every run and log the rate in your running diary, check it again sporadically every minute over the next 5-10 minutes and see how quickly it returns to your resting rate. The faster it returns to normal is the better recovery rate you have achieved and the fitter you are.
I’ve talked quite a bit about how important warming up, cooling down and stretching appropriately are in order to prevent injury. In the next chapter I’m going to look at injuries, how to avoid them and how to treat them, in a little more detail. Most runners at some point during their career get injured, it might be a pulled muscle, a twisted ankle, a strained groin, it could be any number of things, but there are steps that we can take to try to keep our bodies as fit and healthy as possible.
Before we move on from this section on running preparations I would like to give one final piece of advice. Ladies, please shower and get changed straight after you have completed your cool down and stretching for your run. Do not sit around in damp clothes. Not only will hanging around in damp running gear cause your body temperature to drop which could result in you catching a chill, but you will also be more prone to chafing post run in areas such as around your sports bra and your nipples. Wearing damp clothing could also make you more susceptible to developing a yeast infection as it is creating a welcoming environment in your pubic area where yeast can thrive. So keep yeast at bay and shower away!
*It’s important to note that percentages of maximum heart rate for the aerobic and anaerobic target zones are only approximate and will vary depending on the age of the person, the individual’s level of physical activity and also the individual’s fitness level.