This is the first post in our 5K Beginner’s Series! Each Monday for the next 6 weeks we will be looking at different topics to help you get ready for your first (or next) 5K. These will also go right along with our 6 week 5K training plan.

If you haven’t gotten that yet, I encourage you to get it now! If you start that plan today you will be right on track to have a great race for a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot!

Warm Up: Why?

Today I want to tackle the idea of warming up and cooling down for each workout. If you are following the plan, I didn’t write out a specific procedure, but told you to spend 5 minutes getting your muscles loose and your blood flowing. This part of each workout is important few a few reasons.

  1. It reduces your risk of injury– Getting your muscles moving helps a few things. First it stretches out your muscles gradually like a traditional static stretch does. It also helps increase your range of motion which greatly reduces your risk of injury.
  2.  It increases your ability to work hard- Getting the blood flowing to your muscles helps make sure they are getting enough oxygen. This lets them work harder for you right from the start. Otherwise, your muscles would be oxygen starved for your first few intervals while your heart caught up.
  3.  It focuses your mind– It’s hard to get out there and start plugging away right from the start. A lot of that is a mental thing. Giving your mind some time to focus and prepare for the work ahead will make the most of your time spent in training. 

Warm Up: How?

With those thoughts in mind, we can get into HOW you should warm up. There are really two different areas we want to focus on: heart rate, and flexibility/coordination.

To get your heart rate up you really just need to start moving. For a beginner I suggest walking quickly with maybe a few seconds of jogging every minute or so. For a more advanced runner I would jog with a few sprints at the end. This should last 3-5 minutes.

After you have gotten your heart rate up, I suggest some dynamic stretching or movements. Things like jumping jacks and lunges work great. Static stretches are not good before a workout because they lengthen your muscles and move them more flimsy and prone to injury. I prefer more dynamic movements because it not only increases your range of motion, but it more closely resembles the work you are about to be doing.

All of this together should be around 5-10 minutes of warm up. Take your time on this. You don’t want to rush it and end up getting yourself hurt. You also don’t want to be going too hard in a  warm up and take away energy from your workout.

Cool Down

After the workout is done, you should spend some time cooling down. Obviously this is a literal cooling down as you are probably quite warm after the workout, but also allowing your muscles to relax gradually.

The focus of the cool down is all about recovery. Recovery is where your body repairs itself so it can get stronger for the next workout.

Start by walking it out for a few minutes. Just long enough to get your breathing back to normal and to let your body temperature drop. I normally take just a few minutes to do this. Then you can do your static stretches. Focus on the muscles that are tight or sore. After working hard, your muscles will want to tighten up and contract. Stretching helps lengthen them and ensures that they don’t start repairing themselves in that shortened length. Foam rolling is another favorite to help loosen these muscles up.

This same procedure can be done in the morning every day or just on off days if your prefer. It will help keep your mind in the game and help you stay loose between workouts while your body recovers.  

The warm up and cool down procedures are one of the most often neglected parts of training, even with elite athletes! But it is one of the best ways to keep from getting injured and to recover between workouts!

Let’s make this a conversation. I want to hear your warm up and cool down routines! What kinds of things do you do? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

Also, stay tuned for each the rest of the posts in the 5K Beginner’s Series. You can sign up to get all my posts in your inbox as soon as I post them, along with some great freebies!