How To Warm-Up For And Cool Down After A Run
Authors: Herwig Natmessnig, Günther Matzinger, Sascha Wingenfeld, and Emily Stewart
It’s no secret that running warm-up exercises and cool-down stretches are important if it’s a race or just the usual weekly run.(1) But many runners don’t know how to create a warm-up workout and wonder, “What is a cool down?”
We’ve outlined the benefits of warming up and cooling down, tips, and provided examples of warm-up exercises.
Table of Contents
Benefits Of Warm-Ups
Warm-ups are crucial to your efficiency, recovery, and progression. The positive effects of warming up improve your race performance. Here’s why warming up works:
1. Raise Your Body Temperature
Dynamic warm-ups before workouts raise your body temperature by heating up your muscles. They also boost your metabolism and accelerate the supply of energy to your muscles.
2. Enhance Muscle Performance
As your muscle temperature rises, your muscle viscosity (or resistance) decreases. This results in faster muscle contraction and relaxation, which enhances your performance.(2)
3. Boost Heart Function
Your heart also benefits from warming up. The exercises increase your cardiac output and respiratory minute volume (RMV), thus expanding your VO2 max.
4. Improve the Load Distribution in Joints
Contrary to previous belief, new research has shown that even short-term exercise like warming up can help build joint cartilage. The thicker layer of cartilage increases the load-bearing surface and distributes loads more evenly.
5. Help Prevent Injuries
Warming up properly has been proven to minimize the risk of injury. It increases tissue and muscle flexibility and prepares your body to perform fast and explosive movements. Plus, you are less likely to pull or tear a muscle.
6. Increase Coordination and Control
As an added advantage, warming up improves your mental focus and speeds up your reaction time.
How To Warm-Up Before A Workout: Tips for Runners
Running warm-up tips:
- Focus on those muscles that will do most of the work.
- The warm-up effect is short-lived, so keep warming up until the beginning of your race/run. Research has shown that your body temperature remains elevated for only about 10 minutes after you warm up. After 45 minutes, all traces of your warm-up are gone.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but if you are warming up for a race, the shorter the race is, the longer your warm-up should be.
- Never start with sprints or explosive movements. You should gradually increase the intensity of your warm-up.
- Your warm-up should never cross your anaerobic threshold (i.e., it should not be over 65% of your max effort).
In addition, there are several factors to consider when deciding how long and how hard to warm up before running: the distance of the race/run, the time of day, the weather, your age, and your physical fitness.
Warm-Up Workout Routines
Most race day warm-up exercise lasts somewhere between ten and 45 minutes. A proper warm-up is divided into parts:
- The general part consists of jogging (ten to 15 minutes) and dynamic stretching exercises.
- The specific part focuses on running technique drills like skips, butt kicks, and ankling.
- Accelerations are also useful before short or middle–distance races to get you ready to shift gears. The idea is to start slowly and steadily and increase your pace until you reach a submaximal sprint (90% of your maximal sprint).
It is important that you plan your running warm-up so you finish shortly before the race begins.
Dynamic Stretching For Runners
Watch these videos and read the descriptions of dynamic stretches to do before running.
Stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your head up and engage your core. Take a long step forward with your left foot and lower your front thigh until it is parallel with the floor. Your front knee should be directly above your left foot and your back knee should (almost) touch the ground. Push through the front foot back to the starting position and switch sides.
Start in the same position as the forward lunge. Step to the side with your right foot. Push back with your hips and bend your right knee. Lower down until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Your feet should be facing forward the whole time. Push through the right heel back to the starting position and switch sides.
Accelerations and Muscle Activation
The final part of your warm-up is devoted to activating your muscles. Accelerations are perfect for this, but try to keep them short. If done too long, these high-intensity bursts of speed can sap your strength and leave you feeling tired before the race even begins.
How to do accelerations: Start with a slow jog and gradually increase speed until you reach a submaximal sprint (90% of your maximal sprint). A distance of 60 meters should be sufficient. Do three or four accelerations with at least one minute of active recovery (jogging) between accelerations.
Running Technique Drills
Including a few running technique drills in your warm-up can help you activate key muscle groups. For ideas, watch this video by marathon runner and Olympian Philipp Pflieger. Use these drills to improve your technique, speed, and cadence.
Make It Yours
No matter the distance, every pre-run warm-up should include jogging, dynamic stretching, and running technique drills. While mainly used for shorter races, accelerations are one type of warm-up exercise that can help half-marathon and marathon runners before a race. However, there are differing opinions on this, so every runner should decide on their own.
Example of Warm-Ups For Different Distances
Each warm-up needs to be specific to the upcoming race. However, they will all contain a section of general jogging and then specific racing drills. Here’s an overview:
GENERAL PART (jogging and dynamic stretches)
- 5K race: 15 – 20 minutes
- 10K race: 10 – 15 minutes
- Half-marathon: 10 minutes
- Marathon: 5 – 10 minutes
SPECIFIC PART (running technique drills and accelerations)
- 5K race: 10 minutes of 3-4 repetitions totaling 60 meters
- 10K race: 5-10 minutes of 2-3 repetitions totaling 60 meters
- Half-marathon: 5 minutes of 1-2 repetitions totaling 60 meters
- Marathon: 5 min of one repetition totaling 60 meters
What Is A Warm-Up For Endurance Runs?
Turn the first ten to 15 minutes of an endurance run into your warm-up. Start very relaxed, then slowly increase your pace, allowing your body to get used to and prepared for the exercise. After this short warm-up phase, you should activate the most important muscle groups again.
Repeat the usual stretching exercises five to six times to activate those muscles and hold for three to four seconds. By tensing and releasing them, you can increase blood flow to the muscles to boost their performance.
You Know You’re Warmed Up When…
If you break a sweat, you can be pretty sure that you are properly warmed up. However, always make sure to take the air temperature, humidity, and intensity of your warm-up into consideration.
Unfortunately, there is no one-plan-fits-all approach to warming up. So, if the above warm-up exercises leave you feeling cold, try these instead:
- A running warm-up using resistance bands
- Elite marathoner Haile Gebrselassie’s top 5 running warm-up exercises
How To Cool Down After Running
Cool Down Benefits
You’ve fought your way through your training, your heart’s still beating like crazy, and you bend over to catch your breath. You should be proud of your effort! But your workout isn’t quite over yet. A proper cool-down can speed up your recovery and increase the effectiveness of your training.
To produce an effective training stimulus, you must break out of your comfort zone and stress your body. The more intense your workout is, the longer it will take your body to recover. During the recovery process, your muscles rebuild and get stronger for future workouts. To achieve the greatest possible effect, your recovery has to be just as important as the training itself. Cool-down exercises are the first step of your recovery. The harder your workout or race was, the more important your cool-down is.
Cool-Down = Warm-Down
The terms “cool-down” and “warm-down” refer to the post-workout process of helping the body return to homeostasis after stress.
Just as a warm-up prepares your body for the workout, the cool-down helps your body return to a state of rest. The cool-down relaxes your muscles and lowers your heart and breathing rate. It helps your body to eliminate lactic acid and other waste products faster and to repair micro-injuries. A warm-down also provides your muscles with oxygenated blood, which speeds up the recovery process and helps you avoid sore muscles. These positive effects of cooling down help you recover faster from your training.
Warm-Down Exercise: Go For A Jog Or Walk
Your cool-down shouldn’t stress your body, so keep the pace nice and easy. After hard intervals, your heart rate might shoot up again after a few meters of jogging. If this happens, you can walk for several minutes and then try to jog again until your heart rate has returned to its pre-workout rate. The main thing is that the pace of your cool-down should be slower than your base training pace.
Why cooling down is important:
The cool-down phase initiates recovery – your body understands that the training is over. It can then start processing the training stimuli.
How Long Should Your Cool Down Workout Be?
The length of your cool-down exercise mainly depends on your fitness level and the workout you just completed: the better shape you’re in, the longer your cool-down can be.
To cool down after training, run the last five to ten minutes at a reduced intensity, then stretch all big muscle groups. Unlike the warm-up, try to hold the stretches for at least 30 seconds. Your muscles will know it’s time to reduce tension and regenerate.
Why cool down after running?
Runners who regularly cool down recover faster, are ready for their next workout sooner, and have a lower risk of injury and overtraining.
Yoga for Your Warm-Up and Cool-Down Exercises
Yoga is one of the best ways to explore stretching warm-ups and cool-downs. The yoga series on our adidas Training app can help you explore the best warm-up exercises. You’ll find other cool-down exercises with pictures on the app, too. Get it here: