The Anatomy of Healthy Running Routines
I know for many of us, just finding time to go for a run at all can be a challenge. This is why I’m met with a lot of resistance when I discuss the importance of pre- and post- run routines in not only running your best, but injury-free. However, just a few minutes before and after your workout can make a big difference.
Let’s go over the anatomy of a warm up and cool down, as well as guiding principles to follow around your runs. Of course, you have to find what works for you and your lifestyle, and there may even be some trial and error involved. I promise it’s worth it! I’ve divided this between morning and evening routines, but adapt to fit your timing as needed.
Morning Runner: Going from a deep slumber to up and running is a rough transition, for both mind and body. Allow some time for your brain to wake up and become oriented, which means a wake-up time of at least 30 minutes before you start running. Drink 8-12 oz of water before heading out, and more if you’re planning on running long. If you’re running less than an hour, eating a small snack may or may not be necessary, but if you have a speed workout or long run on the schedule, fueling is a must. It can take some time to figure out what works best for your stomach, but in general foods with simple carbohydrates (low fiber fruit, date-based bars etc.) are usually well-tolerated. Around 200 calories is sufficient for shorter efforts, but something more substantial is needed for long runs.
To prepare your body, start with some gentle mobility exercises for the spine, ankles, and hips. Depending on your injury history, you may have to spend more time warming up vulnerable tissues and problematic joints. These exercises should be more dynamic in nature, meaning that the stretches are held for a very short period of time. My go-to exercises are: cat-cow for the spine, hip openers, and ankle mobilizations. “Activation exercises” is a current buzz phase for hip and glute exercises that are performed before a run with the goal of improving utilization of these muscles while running. Doing 10-15 repetitions of bridging, banded side steps, lunges, squats, etc prior to running helps to increase blood flow and wakes up the brain prior to exertion. This is particularly important in the morning.
Evening runner: Preparing for an evening run or workout starts during the day. For busy professionals, it can be difficult to remain hydrated and to time meals properly. Ideally, a small meal/snack would be consumed no more than 2 hours prior to starting a run, and the same rules apply as mentioned above: something gentle on the stomach!
If you have a sedentary job, your evening run will benefit from alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day, and taking hourly breaks to walk and move around, if possible. Computer breaks are also a good time to sneak in those pesky PT exercises! Prolonged sitting can shorten the hip flexors, abdominal muscles, and anterior shoulder muscles, which can make those first few miles feel stiff. If you have a long commute home or to your run start, movement prep and dynamic stretching as aforementioned becomes even more important. Even 5 minutes is sufficient!
Morning runner: Before rushing off to work, make sure that you eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. It might take some planning to make sure that your food is ready when you are. This refueling window is important for recovery and is beneficial to minimize tissue stress and help prepare you for your next workout. Rehydration is also key: drink 8-16oz of water within that first hour post-workout
After the run is the time for static stretches (prolonged holds of >60 seconds). If there are some areas that feel tight, now is the time! I also recommend and at times even prefer, foam rolling or trigger point release with a tennis/lacrosse ball. Giving your body 5-10 minutes of TLC goes a long way. Allow some time to walk/cool down before hopping in your car to commute.
Evening runner: The same rules apply with regard to nutrition: eating 200-300 calories within 30 minutes of finishing your run. However, it might be ideal to eat a snack before dinner, and spend some time foam rolling/stretching before showering and eating dinner. I might be projecting here, but once I shower and/or eat I’m less likely to do exercises, so I know I have to do them while I’m still sweaty and in my running clothes. If you’re planning on strength training that day, right after a run is a good time!
Now you’re ready to build the perfect pre and post run routine! Consistency is key and will help form a habit that will help keep you injury-free. Happy running!
Keep going, you’ve got this!
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT