Question: if running is your preferred form of exercise, do you always warm up first? If not, you’re not alone by any stretch – but you will be at greater risk of injury.
Around half of our physiotherapy clients with running-related injuries confess that they never warm up. Ever. They just hit the ground, er, running. The other half believe that walking for five minutes first will do. While that’s certainly better than nothing, there is a better way to make sure your muscles are properly warm before you break into a full run.
What’s the point of warming up again? It’s all about preparing your body for strenuous exercise by increasing your core body temperature and muscle temperature. Another benefit of warming up is it helps you perform at your peak.
You can avoid 99% of injuries by warming up correctly
My personal warm-up routine
As a long-time physio and veteran runner, I practise something called ‘active strengthening’. Active strengthening plays a huge role in injury prevention because it warms up the muscles in order to prevent tendon and muscle belly tears.
When I’m ready to run, I set aside five minutes for:
- 1 x set of 20 standing lunges
Start in the lunge position, making sure the back knee is touching the ground, then use the front foot to push back into a neutral standing position (both feet together) with each lunge.
- 1 x set of calf pumps
Start on your hands and knees, then lift up on your toes (with the weight on your shoulders) and begin pushing your heels to the ground, alternating each foot.
REPEAT STEPS 1 and 2, then off you go!
*Side note: cooling down is a vital part of running too, and can help you avoid painful muscle soreness over the next couple of days. The best way to cool down is by performing a series of static stretches that target the backs of your legs and hip flexors.
How much do you know about the ‘true core’? True core strength goes much deeper than surface abs and six-packs. Responsible for balance and all-round stability, the true core connects your abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and posterior chain.
Many people mistakenly believe that core work is all about abs. Crunches alone may be great for external definition, but they don’t address deeper core strength and can actually make back pain worse.
In our experience, building up a solid foundation of true core strength makes almost every physical pursuit easier and more satisfying.
People walk taller and breathe more deeply after they have worked on their true core because it strengthens the spine. It’s fantastic for improving your running technique (stability), and it also supports your yoga practice (balance) – particularly when cultivating your tree and bow poses.
How to work it
To strengthen your true core, we suggest swapping sit-ups for planks, side planks and bridges. Reformer Pilates works wonders – particularly when you assume the table top position – and there are plenty of moves you can do with no equipment at all (see above and below).
Balance-based exercises like push-ups and lunges help strengthen your true core while they work your pecs, shoulders, thighs and glutes. Relatively simple moves like the bird-dog crunch and segmental rotations are also good options.
With the rise of computer-based tasks at work and the hours of study we did to land those jobs, it’s no wonder our musculoskeletal systems have been so affected by sitting. Even the growing popularity of cycling has a lot to answer for – again with the sitting. Never fear though, I’ve got some easy, effective exercises you can do to right your body balance.
They say that sitting is the new smoking because of all the cardiovascular exercise you’re not getting when you’re sitting for hours on end, and the musculoskeletal system can be just as badly affected.
Working as physios, we’ve noticed that everyone presents with tights quads these days and don’t even get us started on the back issues. The problem is that sitting really pulls people shoulder forward.
Most people slouch (even me sometimes) at their desk and few people get up to stretch periodically, even though they know they should.
Here are my go-to exercises to counteract prolonged sitting:
- Chariot pull using gym equipment or the reformer
- Row with twist using a resistance band
This combo has the effect of tightening your weak muscles and stretching your tight ones.
Unfortunately, even most gym routines don’t do enough to strengthen your posterior chain, which are the group of muscles at the back of the body (hamstrings, (gluteus maximus, spinal erectors, trapezius and posterior deltoids).
Complete this series to engage your posterior chain before working out:
- Straight leg bridge – 2 sets of 20
Elevate your feet on a bench or exercise ball and lift your pelvis, squeezing your glutes and activating your core.
- Modified dead lift – 2 sets of 20
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight up the bar to your specifications and squat slowly as low as you can go (preferably so your bum meets your heels), maintaining a flat-back position.
- Backward walk – 10 x 20 metres*
*What it says on the tin. Careful, though! Ensure your path is clear.