Warm up before running over winter to avoid triathlon injuries sneaking up on you in the cold
It’s freezing, it’s dark, you’re off for a run and you haven’t even warmed up properly. How are your poor muscles ever going to cope? As the days get colder it becomes more and more important to get warm before you start running. But it’s not always easy, and running slowly to warm up can be unpleasant in cold weather.
Your natural inclination will be to go fast until you feel warm, but that’s not always a good idea. Muscles are like chewing gum, and when they’re cold, they’re stiff rather than supple. Muscles work more efficiently when they’re warm, whereas running hard with cold muscles can be a recipe for injury.
Traditional static stretches don’t help much either. Leaning against a wall, stretching out your calves or thighs might do you some good after a run, but before they won’t do you any real favours.
The best solution is to start out with some dynamic stretching. This is because when we run our active muscles have to overcome a certain amount of resistance from our non-active muscles. For example, your hip flexor muscles on the front of your hips may have to overcome resistance from your hamstrings on the back of your thigh at certain stages of your running gait.
Dynamic stretches help limit this resistance. They are movements that mimic running, but in an exaggerated way. They teach your non-active muscles to relax, warming you up gently in the process and reducing your chances of getting a muscle strain.
The dynamic stretch exercises here should only take a few minutes. Do them before running on a cold day, particularly if you’ll be running fast. Concentrate on your form and you should notice you feel better as soon as you start running. Then take it easy for the first 10 minutes of your run, using the time to gradually build up to your target training pace.
1. Leg kicks
From a standing position, hold both arms out straight in front of you at 90 degrees from your torso. Start walking slowly forwards by kicking each leg as highly as possible. Aim to gently kick your left hand with your left foot and your right hand with your right foot. Try not to let your trunk bend forwards, and to keep your legs as straight as you can. Do this exercise for 30 seconds.
2. Body rotations
Lift your arms out to the side, at 90 degrees to your body. Then rotate your torso as far as you can to the left, before reversing direction and swinging back to the right. Try to stay relaxed throughout – it’s not a race. Do this 10 times in total before you run.
3. Side leg-swings
Face a wall and lean against it with both palms flat. Swing your straight leg left to right in wide arcs between the wall and your standing leg. Do 10 swings on one side, before changing over to the other leg. Keep your swinging leg relaxed throughout, and don’t try to swing too far.
4. Tilt walking
You may look a bit silly doing this one, but trust us, it works. From standing, take a step forward with your right foot and then balance on that forward foot. Lean your body forward at the waist until it’s parallel to the floor. While you’re doing this, lift your rearward leg off the ground for balance. Return back to standing and repeat with the opposite leg. It’s really important to try and hold your form and balance on this one, so don’t rush it. Do this for 30 seconds.