We all know how important it is to exercise regularly, and we are proud that Zwift Run provides an excellent way to get that exercise in when life gets in the way and time is precious.
However, we do need to remind ourselves of first principles and best practice before starting a demanding run session on Zwift or IRL. Running is a high-intensity exercise and warming up in preparation is almost as important as the session itself.
Think of your muscles like a rubber band: a rubber band is much more brittle and liable to snap if it is stretched when cold. Likewise your muscles, of which your heart is the most important, will contract and expand far more efficiently once warmed up.
This is particularly important prior to a hard effort and just as vital whether you are preparing for your very first 5k or you 50th ultra marathon.
You risk injury and illness if you attempt a race or a demanding training session without adequate preparation. Instead, use a warmup to gradually raise your heart rate from resting to active levels and give your leg muscles time to reach full extension effectively.
In the past, runners would go through a stretching routine. This might have involved touching your toes to stretch the hamstrings, pulling your foot up behind you to stretch the quadriceps, and leaning forward while keeping a straight leg behind you to stretch out the calf muscle.
This is known as static stretching, since we are stretching without movement.
However, if we revisit the rubber band analogy, static stretching actually does more harm than good, decreasing the muscle’s ability to produce force and actually increasing the likelihood of injury–Precisely what we are trying to avoid in the first place.
It is generally acknowledged that dynamic stretches are a safer, more effective way to warm up. Dynamic stretches are stretches with movement and they are proven to increase the ability of your muscles to produce force. These stretches might involve forward and sideways lunges, walking knee raises, sideways leg swings and forward kicks.
If you are preparing for a race or hard effort then it’s good practice to run through a few dynamic stretches beforehand.
Prior to a hard effort we also need to get the heart working a little harder. Start with a slow jog and gradually increase the pace over the next 500 meters. Next, build in a few short strides or pick ups, no more than 50-100 meters each, at a fast pace. Do this three or four times jogging in between each stride and running for another few hundred meters afterward. This will bring the heart rate up slowly so it is ready for the hard effort to come.
If you are doing a hard effort workout on Zwift, you should find that a warm-up section is built into the workout, allowing you to bring the heart rate slowly up. In this case, you should do a few dynamic stretches and then start the workout.
However, if you are racing, there will be no such warm-up period, so it’s vital that your body is ready to go when the timer reaches zero. Best practice in this case is dynamic stretches and then a short jog with some pace pick ups to get you in the zone.
Once your race or workout is complete, you should ideally run a further few hundred meters as a recovery jog. This allows the heart rate to come down slowly and also helps drain lactic acid from the muscles. During hard efforts a build-up of lactic acid is inevitable and this can lead to muscle soreness and slow recovery if left unchecked. A recovery run increases blood and oxygen supply to the muscles, flushing out that lactic acid.
While static stretching is not a good idea before a hard effort, there is no harm in doing them afterward to increase circulation and relieve tension. Finally, equally as important as any other part of your training, is rehydration, eating and sleeping. Replacing lost electrolytes and glycogen and supplying the muscles with protein soon after your activity will help your body recover faster and rebuild stronger. A good night’s sleep should also not be underestimated as an important aid to recovery and muscle repair.
Stick to these principles and you’ll be in a great position to jump on Zwift Run to do hard effort training and races on a regular basis. See you at the start line!