Rocks, slippery paths, snow, dirt trails, steep ascents and treacherous descents – these are just some of the things you might be negotiating on a trail run. But how many of us actually bother to warm up before running?
The key to preparing for trail running is warming up your joints – and then gradually loading the leg tendons to cope with the changing gradients of the terrain. The warm up also needs to be dynamic in order to prepare the muscles to work, and subsequently set the neuromuscular patterns.
But first off, you need to ensure you’re in the correct running apparel – clothing that’s suitable for the conditions and outside temperature. This is especially important in the winter, when your muscles need to stay warm. Layers work best. And if you’re carrying a backpack and get too hot you can always chuck spare clothing in the bag.
If the conditions are dry, it also makes sense that you do your warm up outside before running, so you’re in the same air temperature that you’ll be running in later on.
It’s good practice to do the dynamic drill before each training run. So, begin with a light flat jog to warm up your muscles – 10 minutes or so.
By the end of the warm up, you should feel moderately warm and a little out of breath. This feeling will feel exaggerated in the winter months.
1. Pelvic and hip mobility
Start with your feet hip-width apart, soft knees. Imagine you are drawing a big circle with your pelvis – keep your upper body still and focus on only moving below your waist. Take big circles in both directions and then try moving in a figure of eight.
Spend 2 minutes on this drill. Then move onto a single leg circle – balance on one leg – then, as if standing on a tight rope, draw a semi-circle on the floor with your free leg to touch the tightrope in front of the stance leg and then behind – 1 minute each leg – firstly focus on balance, then increase the speed.
2. Two footed jumps
Stand with your feet hip-width apart on soft knees. Initially start with small jumps at a pace of 2 per second, ensuring the heels kiss the ground.
Repeat until calf muscles are feeling nicely warm.
3.Alternate knee drives
The objective of this drill is to focus on the drive phase of the run and also warm up the shoulder joints. Start balancing on one leg with the opposite knee raised, and same side arm lifted to shoulder height – hold to balance – then swap sides – this should be a quick sharp change over – breath out as you do this, repeat 10 times then progress to full high knee running drills for 10meters – repeat times three.
4. Foot rocks and circles
Whilst standing, take turns to rotate each foot in a circle pivoting over the forefoot – repeat both directions in a quick manner x 8, then prepare your feet for the side to side movements of a trail run by practicing turning feet out and then turning feet in – while preventing the knees from rolling in or out.
5. Round the clock lunges
A nice progressive exercise to get the knee joints ready for those hills! Start on right leg take a small lunge forward, keeping knee hip and ankle inline, then repeat – taking a slightly longer lunge and finally and really deep lunge with the back knee to the floor. Staying on that leg, repeat the 3 lunges at a 45 degree angle, a 90 degree lateral and the same backward so that you finish on back lunges. Continue with the same pattern on the left leg.
Of course, you’ll ideally warm down after every run too. It’s just as important to warm up before running. Personally, I feel that your post-exercise activities should be different from your warm-up exercises and include more sustained stretches (30 seconds or so). Another key bit of advice is using a foam roller for some self-massage.