I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t always been faithful to a proper warm-up and cool down. I think this becomes more challenging to stick with as an experienced runner who doesn’t feel a “need” to walk, and also as a busy mom who is trying to get the workout checked off her list. But let’s take a little closer at why we want to give these workout components the time they deserve and how to do them effectively.
The warm-up eases the whole body into the workout – your heart, lungs, joints and heart. It gets the blood flowing properly to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles and minimizes the stress on your heart when you start to run. So not only are you easing the joints into the workout to prevent injuries, but you are increasing the effectiveness of the workout as well! Oxygen in the muscles = better results. Your flexibility, elasticity and range of motion will all be increased.
A proper warm-up for running regardless of your fitness level is to begin with a walk, picking up pace as you get closer to the run. 5+ minutes is sufficient but I’ll give the green light at 2-3 minutes of walking for more experienced runners.
The cool-down keeps blood properly circulating as your body slows. Stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness because your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly. If you stop running suddenly with no cool down your blood will "pool" in your muscles and veins, causing swelling, pain or dizziness.
Brisk walking is appropriate after a run. Whatever you do, don’t stop moving! The finish line should mean it’s okay to slow down now… but not okay to stop. After the cardiovascular cool-down go right into stretching or your strength exercises (and then immediate stretching) – I recommend at least stretching the hamstrings good before going into strength. You want to take full advantage of the increased flexibility of those warmed-up muscles.