Let me start by saying this first - I am as guilty as everyone else. My warm-up for running is typically tying my shoes, opening my run tracking app, and hitting play on Apple Music.
We all know that a warm-up is necessary. But knowing that you should complete a warm-up and knowing what warm-up movements you should do are two different things.
The research is pretty clear about one thing - static stretching is pretty much useless. So those standard "bending forward hamstring stretch", "runner's stretch", and "calf stretch" need to go away.
But what do we replace it with?
An article published in 2020 in Frontiers of Physiology by Wei and colleagues compared 3 different types of warm-ups and determined one to be the most effective for recreational endurance runners.
To determine which was most effective, this article looked at several factors of running economy including maximal oxygen uptake, heart rate, respiratory exchange rate, expired ventilation, and time to exhaustion.
The 3 types of warmups were: Control, Resistance, Plyometric.
All participants were tested at the beginning of the study to provide a baseline. They then completed a counterbalanced crossover design, meaning that everyone did each warm-up variation, with 2 days separating each of the trials. Those individual trials were compared to their original score to determine the difference in warm-up effectiveness.
Here's how the study was set up:
Everyone jogged 10 minutes in the beginning. The individual warm-up was completed
Resistance: Walked with 20 pound vest
Plyometric: Jump squat, Scissor Jump, Broad Jump (Check out the video above for a walkthrough)
After that, the groups rested for 10 minutes and then completed an incremental running test during which data was collected.
Now, looking at the procedures, it shouldn't surprise us that the Plyometric warm-up group did significantly better than the other groups. If you lengthen muscles and then contract the muscles, the tissue will be prepped for the activity.
So what does this tell us?
1. Static stretching wasn't even considered in this article. It's 2020, we need to stop trying to implement static stretching into our lives. It's time to move on.
2. Starting our runs with dynamic movement, even just a small bit, makes a significant improvement in running economy. If we want our training to be effective, we need to have a proper warm-up.
3. This article is focused on recreational endurance athletes. We cannot apply this to expert and professional runners.
What we don't know:
1. Are these 3 movements the best? Or could other movements be better? Squatting and jumping is good, but could we implement unilateral bounding, thoracic rotation, or overhead reaching to make this more effective? The warm-up I give my runners includes these other regions, because I believe running is a whole-body experience.
2. Can expert runners benefit from this? Or is this just for recreational runners? I would say that if you're an expert runner and you already have a solid warm-up protocol then stick to that. But if you don't have a good protocol, start to implement some of these movements.
Let me know what you think!
Email me at [email protected] with your questions about this protocol or your experiences after you tried it. I'm always eager to talk about running, so shoot over anything else that you want to talk about!
Reference: Wei C, Yu L, Duncan B, Renfree A. A Plyometric Warm-Up Protocol Improves Running Economy in Recreational Endurance Athletes. Front Physiol. 2020;11:197. Published 2020 Mar 12. doi:10.3389/fphys.2020.00197
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