Runners are creatures of habit, but sometimes those habits can be our undoing. Want to know if your pre-run routine could use a tune-up? Compare your routine to this list to find out.
Eat Too Much or Too SoonIt’s the cruelest of paradoxes: You need fuel to run, but you can’t run on a full stomach.
Have you ever wondered why?
First, there’s the issue of your body’s resources. After a meal, your body happily kicks into digestion mode—that is, until you abruptly shut it down to keep your legs churning. This harsh transition can leave you with a heavy gut that makes you feel queasy or can cause you to cramp.
Second, unless you’re doing a very slow run that primarily uses fat for fuel, your body will want to burn glycogen. While you probably have enough gas in the tank for a short run (up to 45 minutes at moderate intensity), anything longer than that will need some recently-digested carbs. If you’ve eaten too soon before, then your body hasn’t had time to turn that food into energy.
If you’re short on time and need some quick fuel, then opt for easily digesting carbs, like a couple of dates, or a liquid snack, like a fruit-based smoothie, about 30 minutes before you run.
If you do plan to eat a regular meal before a run, it’s best to do so two to three hours before.
Reach, Hold, StretchThe ‘90s called and wants its stretching back. Yes, it’s true, if your usual stretching routine involves traditional static, reach-and-hold type of stretches, then you might be doing more harm than good. A number of studies have shown that static stretching does nothing to help prevent injury, while others have shown that it can simultaneously have a negative impact on performance.
That’s not to say that static stretching is all bad. In fact, it’s a very effective way to lengthen muscles and increase range of motion, which can alleviate that muscle tightness in the first place. To realize these benefits, simply move your static stretching session to the end of your cool-down, rather than the beginning of your warm-up.
Skip the Warm-upIf you think a light jog can satisfy your warm-up, time to rethink it.
“Running is inherently one of the most plyometric activities we do, so it’s critical that we prepare the tissue to handle the demands of that activity by gradually ramping up the nervous system,” says Dr. Richard Hansen, an Olympic-level running coach and owner of High Altitude Spine & Sport in Boulder, Colorado.
That’s why Hansen puts his athletes through a smart, progressive warm-up before every workout— even the easy ones.
Hansen tells his runners to think of every workout like a bell curve: Each workout should begin with light dynamic exercises designed to stimulate the nervous system and warm up the body’s tissues.
The intensity and complexity of the exercises should increase as the warm-up progresses, until effort level reaches the apex of the curve, which represents the actual actual run itself. Try progressing through leg swings, marches, skips and strides to ramp up intensity and get your muscles and your neurons firing on all cylinders before your next run.
Now you know what not to do before your next run. By breaking out of these bad habits, you can build an effective pre-run routine that will keep you running safe, strong and happy.
Find your next race.