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How to Warm Up and Cool Down for Running

By February 1, 2019April 14th, 20222 Comments

In today’s video we are going to talk about the warm up and the cool down. In particular: 

  • What happens in your body during a warm up and cool down
  • Benefits of a warm up and a cool down
  • How to properly warm up and cool down

Warm up for running

Depending on your workout intensity, 50% and even up to 80% of your blood flow going to the rest of your body is shifted to your muscles. A warm up increases the blood flow to the active muscles and it warms up the temperature of your body, especially of the muscles. Slowly increasing your HR will help this process. 

If your workout starts too fast, your body will send a message to your legs that they need blood right away. Your muscles in the core are going to contract, your heart rate shoots up and your blood vessels are going to open and close so that your blood shoots to your legs. 

This shock reaction to your body interrupts the regular warm up process in your body and will wear down your body more. When your organs and glands quickly have less blood available, this can also result in abnormal heart function and a poor blood pressure response. 

There is also evidence that warmed up muscles are more resistant to tearing, so there is a less risk of injury. 

A proper warm up of at least 15 minutes is important, to make sure your body and mind are ready for an optimal workout. 

The benefits of a warm up for running

  • More blood flow in your working muscles
  • More oxygen available
  • More lung capacity
  • More efficiency in your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments
  • More stored body fat is starting to get used for energy

How to warm up the right way

One way to warm up, is to start with a 5 minute walk, yes this alone will start numerous processes in your body. From a walk, start a slow jog, gradually picking up your pace over the next 10 – 15 minutes, making sure you keep a conversational pace (or until you reach your MAF HR) 

how to warm up and cool down for running
Let’s go over a warm up outside and talk warm up!

Start with a 5 minute walk, this is a mindful walk. We are going to pay attention to the right posture and movement. You can press off with your big toe. Get your arms moving and your upper body rotating. Listen to what is going on around you, any sounds of your feet hitting the ground, cars, leaf blowers, birds, etc.

Focus on your breathing. This is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Breath in through your nose, fill your belly and lungs all the way. Slowly inhale, hold for a few seconds, slowly exhale either through month or nose. 

At the start as you put on your shoes, get outside, HR might be between 50 and 80, maybe a bit lower or higher. Walk 5 minutes and you will notice your heart rate going. 

Mindful jogging. Slow jog 10 minutes, hold back, start with slow shuffle. Zone in and be 100% present in the moment, observing your surroundings. Keep a conversational pace throughout your warm up. 

Over this 10 minute jog, very gradually go faster. At the end of your warm up, your HR should be closer to the HR you’ll be working out at. My MAF training HR is 134 to 144. My starting HR was 70, so I’ll take my walk and slow jog of 15 minutes total to get to the 134 to 144 zone over a 15 minute time. 

I have personally noticed significant differences in my heart rate being lower (or my pace being faster at the same HR) during exercise when I do a slow gradual warm up, vs running too fast too soon.

If you’re going to do speedwork, you might want to add some short sprints, even 5 to 8 seconds will get your legs and body moving faster. Today I’m planning a mellow main workout run of 40 minutes targeting 144 MAF HR, so I work my way up to that.

After your 5 min walk and 10 min jog, your body had 15 minutes to warm up. On very cold days, your body might need some more time to warm up, so check what feels right for you.

Benefits of a cool down for running

Cool downs are also an important part of any workout. After a workout, your blood contains relative large quantities of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and other by products of exercise. You want some of the blood that is in your muscles to get back to focus on normal circulation in the organs and glands. 

The cool down helps oxygenate your muscles and remove the blood lactate. This is important for higher heart rate workouts and longer workouts, and also important for aerobic only workouts.

If you don’t cool down and your HR drops quickly, the blood that was in your muscles, does not get a chance to drain out.  If you don’t cool down, the “bad blood” with stays in your body longer and it take much longer to recover and you get less benefits from your exercise. 

how to warm up and cool down for running
There are several reason why you don’t want to finish your run with a sprint and then just stop.

How to cool down the right way

For a cool down, you can do the opposite of the warm up described early. So slowing your pace gradually over a period of 10 minutes, ending with a 5 minute walk.

When you know you have about 15 minutes left, slow down your pace gradually. My current HR is 144 beats per minute. I want to slowly bring this down for the next 10 minutes, so my pace will go slower. 

After 10 minutes my heart rate has come down to 110 beats per minute, my pace slowed down from 8 min mile to 11 min mile. Some athletes might have to start walking sooner than 10 minutes to lower their HR. 

I then start walking for 5 minutes. Listen to your body, pay attention to your breathing. There you have it, the 15 minute cool down to finish your work out. 

In closing about warming up and cooling down for running

To summarize this video, a proper warm up helps make a workout less stressful on your body, while a cool down helped recovery to start effectively and in a timely matter. 

A solid warm up and cool down also limits your muscle soreness, that is often seen in early stages of training programs. 

heart rate strava for warm up and cool down running
Strava link to all run details

As you can see on this strava screen shot, you see my heart rate going up during my walk. When I go from a walk to a jog, my heart rate continues to gradually go up. After 15 minutes, I got to the 144 Heart Rate I was aiming at (my MAF heart rate). I ran around 144 HR for 40 minutes, then started my cool down to get my heart rate down again. You see it spiking up once when I had to dodge the Pokemon Go players that were hanging out on the sidewalk. Gradually coming down, after 10 minutes started walking, HR came down just below 100 beats again.

Although you might feel this takes a lot of time, you will get a lot of health benefits from a proper warm up and cool down. a

how to warm up and cool down for running
Hope you enjoyed this video. If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments or join our Extramilest Facebook Group to discuss more. Have fun out there on your runs!

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  • Timothy MacConnell says:

    Floris, I love your stuff, keep it up. Regarding warm-up. Any advice on warming up for half and full marathons? You trapped in a corral. Do you still try to elevate your HR before jumping into race pace.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks have been looking for a good way to warm up and cool down before MAF runs

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