Looking to PR your next 5k? Then warm up. "If you're properly warmed-up, your muscles will be ready to respond to the pace you demand, rather than your having to make up time later because you had to start slower," says Suzie Snyder of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Not only does warming up prepare your muscles for a strong start, it makes your oxygen uptake--the ability to deliver increasing amounts of oxygen to your muscles--more efficient early in the race.
To warm up for races lasting about an hour or less, Snyder suggests an easy run of 10 to 15 minutes followed by a few strides, fast 50- to 100-meter spurts in which you gradually increase leg turnover to just under sprint speed (don't go all-out). End your warm-up no more than five minutes from the start. For longer races, warm up if you plan on going hard, but if your goal is simply to finish, use the first mile as a warm-up.
Move to the Music
A recent British study confirms what thousands of iPod-toting striders have always known--power songs get you pumped. Researchers measured the heart rate and pace of 30 runners listening to different speeds and volumes of music as well as no music during 10-minute treadmill sessions. Pace and heart rate increased during the faster music, more so as the volume cranked up. Runners sensed they were working harder during fast, loud music and also felt more positive. And although those with no music had slower speeds, lower heart rates and reported more negative feelings, their perceived effort was equal to the fast/loud group. Possible explanation: The absence of music made the effort seem more difficult.
In the ongoing quest for a sensational six-pack, use an abdominal wheel during your workout. The Medical College of Georgia found that using this tool produced greater abdominal muscle activity--upper and lower--than crunches. Produced by many fitness equipment makers, this simple apparatus consists of two wheels fastened in the center of a small pole with handles. You kneel over it holding each end of the pole, roll it forward to full body extension, and then roll it back. Not only does it work the abs but also the shoulders, upper and lower back, thighs and wrists. Most gyms have them, or search for "ab wheel" on amazon.com to find a plethora in the $10 to $15 range.
Did You Know?
After a high-intensity cardio workout, your body may keep burning calories up to 19 hours later, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study, which examined women who exercised for 40 minutes on a treadmill at 80 percent maximum heart rate.
Great for runners, this stretch lengthens the calf and hamstring muscles. The safest way to begin is on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes toward your knees and lift your rear up and back. Let your head hang down facing your knees and press your heels into the floor. Hold for six deep, slow breaths, carefully exhaling to allow your muscles to relax. To increase the stretch, pull your buttocks further up and back. When finished, bend your knees and lower them to the floor.
Note: This stretch should never be done immediately after a run because it's unsafe to drop your head below your heart when your heart rate is elevated.--Sherry Lowe-Bernie, co-creator of the CD Personalizing Pilates: Runners, personalizingpilates.com.