Running warm up stretches - and their benefits

Warm up is a necessary preliminary exercise that one performs in order to prep the body, before starting the actual physical activity or sport. It mainly consists of light jogging, skipping and a combination of stretching exercises.

Not just body, mind can also be primed with warm up exercises in the sense that it clears your mind, makes you concentrate on your subsequent activity and analyze your strategy.

Warm up is mandatory if you want to achieve better flexibility and avoid injuries. You may have to invest a little more time to make warm up a part of your routine but its benefits far outweigh the time employed.

Warm up increases your body temperature leading to:

• Increased delivery of oxygen

• enhanced enzyme activity (both leading to greater energy production)

• better extensibility of muscle fibers that contract with greater force and speed

The physical activity releases adrenaline, which

• Increases heart rate and therefore, increases the rate of blood circulation that leads to rapid food delivery and waste drainage.

• increases production of joint lubricant (synovial fluid) allowing better joint mobility

The metabolic activity (conversion of food into energy) fires up to meet the excess energy requirements.

This makes clear, that without warm up, it is very difficult, if not impossible to perform to the full limit.

Warm up stretches for runners
Before starting with the different stretching exercises, it is better to emphasize the importance of warming up Correctly!

• Be consistent…. A days warm up won’t last a week.

• Be patient… flexibility comes with time and persistence. Do not overstretch, stretch only to the point, where you feel resistance. Never stretch to the point where it hurts.

• Stretch slowly and hold each stretch for about 10-20 seconds. This allows the muscle to adapt to the new length.

Here are a few warm up stretches that if performed correctly and regularly make running easier and faster.

Quadriceps Stretches:
Quadriceps is a group of four muscles present on the front side of the thigh. It lifts the knee during running.

1. Flamingos:

Stand erect; better take hold of a wall or a chair for balance. Bend your knee, grasp the ankle and bring it close to your hips. Keep the bent knee parallel to the other leg. You will feel stretch on the front of the thigh.

2. Another way to stretch quadriceps is to kneel on your knees. Keep your body erect, try to lean back a little till you feel the stretch in the Qauds.

Hamstring Stretch:
Hamstring is the muscle present at the back of the thigh. This muscle runs from hip to below the knee. Its action is to bend the lifted knee, lifting the lower leg.

1). Keeping your legs straight bend forward with your arms hanging straight down. Bend to an extent that you feel stretch in the back of your thigh. Do not try to touch your toes in the very first attempt.

Your flexibility will increase with time.

2) Lie straight down on the ground face upwards. Lift one leg bent at the knee upwards, supporting the back of the thigh with both your hands. Once the leg is at right angle to the floor, extend the knee to straighten the leg until you feel the stretch.

Calf Stretch:
Calf comprises of two muscles Gastrocnemius and Soleus. Gastrocnemius is responsible for pushing the leg forward, while soleus lies deep to it and is more concerned with lifting the heel. Generally the stretches performed with straightened knee focus on the gastrocnemius, while those performed with bent knee work on soleus muscle.

Gastroc Stretch:
Stand straight with your hands on a wall. Place one leg about three feet away from the wall and the other leg flexed midway between the two. Keep the hind leg straight and the foot placed firmly on the ground. Now fold your elbows and lean forward. You will feel stretch in the calf of the hind leg. Hold and then repeat with the other leg.

Soleus Stretch:
The position is similar as for the Gastroc stretch only that it is performed with knees bent and hips lowered. With the legs flexed lean forward until you feel the stretch.

Groin Stretch:
Sit on the ground, bending your knees on the sides so that the soles of your feet touch together. Now keeping your elbows on the inside of your knees try to bring your nose closer to you feet. Your knees will be pressed down and you will feel the stretch in the groin area.

Hold and repeat.

Hips and lower back Stretch:
1) Sit on the ground with both legs stretched straight. Now bend one leg and cradling the lower leg in your arms bring it closer to your chest. Do not pull the knee, move the whole leg. You will feel the stretch in the hip and upper part of the back of thigh.
2) In another variation, keeping one elbow on the bent knee to hold it in position, twist your body, clockwise if your right leg is bent and anticlockwise for the left leg. This stretches the lower back muscles.
3) Sit on the ground with both legs stretched straight. Now fold one leg and bring the foot closer to your groin. Keeping the other leg stretched parallel to the ground, bend forward stretching your arms in an effort to touch the toes.

Arm Stretches:
Lastly, you have to work your arms too, as they also move with your legs when you run.

Placing left hand below the right elbow, push the right arm across your left shoulder in an effort to touch your back with the right hand. Hold and repeat with the left arm.