Your Step-by-Step Guide to Warm-Up for a Race. (Your Achilles and calves will thank you!) - Runners Edge Physio
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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Warm-Up for a Race. (Your Achilles and calves will thank you!)

For anyone who wants to run in their next race without fear of doing damage to their Achilles tendon and calf muscles, a proper warm-up is essential! If you are a seasoned runner, you already know that a proper warm-up can get complicated. If you don’t do it right, you could end up with an Achilles tendon injury or calf muscle strain that puts you on the bench for the season. Want to know more?  Enter our step-by-step guide to warm up before a race!

Follow a step-by-step warm-up so you can...

  • Start the run feeling strong.
  • Ramp up the pace with negative splits throughout the race. (In other words, progressively running faster as the race goes on!…AKA hit those PRs!)
  • Recover quickly after the race and get back into running again sooner than later.

If you find yourself looking around other people and feel that you need to copy their warm-up methods of jogging, stretching, or doing leg swings.  Once you master the step-by-step guide to warm-up you will become THAT runner at the race who KNOWS what they’re doing!

"Why should I care?"

You might be asking yourself, why you should care about warming up before a race. Maybe you are a recreational runner, running for fun, or just don’t find the pre-race scene enjoyable. I have heard it before, “I don’t need to warm up, I am taking it easy today…” My PT brain has some thoughts on this and since I am given this platform, I intent to share them… 

As a running specialist physical therapist, I know that my running clients want to RUN and continue running as long as possible. So whether you are participating in a race for the first time or the 50th time, it is important to know the best way to warm-up before your event so you not only have the best race possible but can also keep running for the rest of your life injury-free!

Warm-Up Your Achilles Tendon & Calves: Overview

Let’s get started with our step-by-step guide to warm up before a race! The four steps are:

  1. Dress appropriately with layers according to the temperature.
  2. Walking on your Toes.
  3. Bouncing and Quick Agility Drills.
  4. Short Slow Jog, Focusing on your Mechanics and Form.

Step #1: Dress Appropriately with layers according to the temperature

Arrive warm with layers, and start stripping off layers during your warm-up, especially when it’s cold outside.  You want to dress as it is 15-20 degrees warmer than what’s “Feels Like” temperature that is predicted for that day. That’s how much your body warms up from running, if not more!  In other words, start your warm up feeling “comfortably chilly!”  For instance, if it’s predicted to be 50 degrees outside for the race, the runner should dress as if it is 65-70 degrees outside.

Dr. Nat's Tips:

  • Arrive and begin warming up wearing a head-band, long-sleeve shirt, running shorts, and maybe gloves if my hands are extra cold that morning. 

  • Right before the race starts, I strip off the long-sleeve shirt and gloves, and run in my sports bra and shorts, knowing that’s what I normally wear comfortably in 65-70 degree weather.

Step #2: Walking on Your Toes

The first thing you should focus on is bringing blood flow to the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Once “warm and awake,” the Achilles Tendon is activated to act as a “spring” (vs a taunt rope). 

  1. Walk on your toes. (3-5 minutes) 
  2. Do Heel Raises on both ankles 20 times.
  3. Do NOT stretch your calf or Achilles tendon BEFORE you start the race.
    READ MORE: TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH 

Dr. Nat's Tips

  • When I arrive at the race start line, after dropping my things off at the bad drop, I walk around the start line and say hello to my clients and friends… ALL ON MY TOES.
  • Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT stretch your calf and Achilles tendon; this is the counterproductive effect of warming up before a run, as you want the calf and Achilles tendon to recoil like a spring, not a stretched-out old rubber band.

Step #3: Bouncing and Quick Agility Drills

The next thing you should be doing is warming up the full lower extremity (hip to toes). Do hip opening drills, with knee circles out to the side and front of you, then front of you to out to the side and step back (see pictured). Bounce on your toes, do small hops, lateral hops, small steps forward, lateral shuffles, high knees, straight leg kickbacks (see pictured), small side-to-side bounce on your toes until the shotgun goes off and you’re off to a strong start to your race!

  • Hip Openers, forward and backward, 5 times each leg.
  • Double leg hops bouncing, 10 times.  
  • Lateral skater hops, 10 times each direction. 
  • Quick feet forward on your toes, 10 times.
  • Quick feet laterally on your toes, 10 times each direction.
  • Chest up tall, high knees, 10 times each leg.
  • Chest up tall, straight leg kickbacks, 10 times each leg.
  • Skipping for 2 sets of 30 seconds, focusing on ankle and toe push-off. 
  • Small bouncing side-to-side, staying on your toes, until you start the race.

Step #4: Short Slow Jog, Focusing on your Mechanics and Form

Now you’re running!  Should you run fast or slow?  Should you run with your competitors or stay back and wait?  Should you outrun everyone first or should you stay back and observe?  The question goes on.  The answer is, ignore the other runners around you!  The only thing you should get from them is the motivation, vibe, and energy to run happy; not a sense of competition, angst or pressure to place or break your personal record (PR).  Tune in with your music, think about your running mechanics and get that DOWN right from the beginning and check on it periodically throughout the race!  The race is all about YOU! 

The race should be a motivation to apply what you have learned and trained for to an event to let yourself shine in your accomplishments, without any injuries or aches and pains afterwards so you can run again, and again, and for life. 

4 way to improve your running mechanics

  1. Keep your chest up tall and shoulders back. 

  2. Power forward with your glutes and hip extension. 

  3. Landing with your foot under you, soft toes. 

  4. Breathe and Run Happy!

    READ MORE: PERFECT YOUR RUNNING MECHANICS

Post Race

Now you’ve finished the run or the race!  Congratulations!  You have mastered the step-by-step guide to warm up before a race for your calf and achilles tendon, your whole lower extremity, and your running mechanics to achieve the best start and finish of your run.  Before you know it, you’ll have other runners watching YOU warm-up and realize that you’re the one who’s doing it RIGHT!  It is for the sake of your calf strength, your achilles tendon health, and your happiness while running.

Hungry for more?

Want to know more about running mechanics?  What to wear for your next run?  What to eat for dinner before a race, breakfast before a race, fueling during a long run, and hydration options? 

Want to know what specific strength training program you should follow to get ready for the next training cycle?  Want to pick some cross-training activities and sports to do during the off-season to enhance your running performance for the next season? 

Stay tuned for more information coming soon! 

Can’t wait?  Connect with our running specialists at Runners’ Edge Alaska and they will make you the best runner you can be! I am always accepting FREE discovery visits and would love to talk to you more!

Looking for a race in your area? Check out events hosted by our favorite local running store, Skinny Raven

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