All of your runs should start with a warm-up and end with a cooldown. Why are they so important? A good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run.
Just as critical, the cooldown keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness because your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly. Winding down slowly allows them to fall gradually.
Here's how to do a proper warm-up and cooldown:
- It's not a good idea to stretch cold muscles, so don't start with stretching. Do about 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to loosen up your muscles and warm you up for your run. Try walking briskly, marching, jogging slowly, or cycling on a stationary bike. Make sure you don't rush your warm-up.
- Begin your run. Don't start out racing, but instead jog slowly and gradually build up your speed. You should be breathing very easily. If you feel yourself getting out of breath, slow down.
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- After you finish your run, cool down by walking or slowly jogging for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Stretch fully after your cooldown. Your body should be warm and stretching should be easy.
- Stretch your lower back, neck, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and groin area. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Never bounce while stretching. Hold still on each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Perform each stretch one to three times.
- A stretch should never feel like you're hurting yourself. If it hurts, stop that stretch immediately.