Why and How to Run Warm-Up and Cooldown Miles

Warm-Up and Cooldown Miles

If you follow a training plan, you probably notice that your speed workouts and tempo runs include a few warm-up and cooldown miles. I remember years ago when I first started adding variety to my runs (beyond, you know, randomly pushing buttons on the treadmill), I was a bit surprised at the duration of warm-up and cooldown runs. Twenty minutes of easy running to warm up sounded crazy to me, even though I was running up to 8 miles at that point.

Warm-up and cooldown miles are a vital part of the workout, as important as the speed intervals or tempo miles themselves. Without a warm-up or cooldown, you risk injury and may not reap the full physiological benefits of the workout.

Warm-Up Miles

Why should you warm up before a run? A warm up gradually and gently increases your heart rate and breathing rate, so that you give your body time to adapt to the work load. By the time you pick up your pace to begin faster running, you are able to work more efficiently and the faster paces will feel like less of a shock to your system. A warm-up jog also loosens up your muscles by increasing blood flow to your working muscles, particularly your legs. Many runners say that they really don’t feel good in the run until 1-2 miles in. If you’re experiencing cumulative fatigue or soreness from a previous workout, an easy warm-up can alleviate the feeling of heavy, leaden legs so that your feel fresh and springy for your workout.

Warm-up miles also offer a mental benefit. It gives your mind time to adapt to the physical act of running. A hard workout such as mile repeats will seem a lot less intimidating once you’ve already covered a few miles and feel ready to go.

How do you warm up for a run? First, I recommend doing some dynamic stretches to loosen your joints and wake up your muscles. Dynamic stretches do not require a lot of time and can be done as your Garmin finds satellite signal or right before you hop on the treadmill.

After dynamic stretches, a good warm-up will involve 5-20 minutes of easy running. If you run shorter distances, 5-10 minutes will suffice as a good warm-up; distance runners will want to warm up for 2-3 miles, not just to add additional mileage to their week but to prepare their body for the longer duration of their workouts. Your pace should be very easy during the warm up run; your breathing should be light and you should be able to hold a light conversation if need be. As you warm up, you can gradually increase your pace while still maintaining an easy effort. Additionally, you can throw in a few strides to practice your turnover after your warm-up miles to further prepare for the demands of speed work.

Cooldown Miles

After you complete your Yasso 800s or progressive tempo run, the temptation can emerge to skip your cool down. Why not just stop once all the hard work is done? Don’t give into that temptation, for a couple cooldown miles are as beneficial as the warm-up miles.

Why should you cool down after a run? The cooldown jog fulfills a variety of functions. A cool down run serves as a “shake out” for any lactic acid and other physiological by-products of fatigue. One or two cooldown miles will gradually lower your heart rate and breathing rate from faster running and return you to homeostasis. Additionally, a cooldown run will signal your body to stop producing adrenaline, lower cortisol levels, and switch into recovery mode. Without a couple cool down miles, your stress hormone levels may remain elevated for too long and interfere with the start of the recovery process.

How should you cool down after a run? Just like a warm-up, you should maintain an easy, conversational effort. The focus here is recovery, so if you are tracking pace, aim to run at the same pace as you would run a recovery run. Short distance runners can stick to a 5-10 minute cooldown, while distance runners will benefit from 1-3 miles of easy running. If you listen to music when you run, change from upbeat music to a softer, slower tune or turn off the music altogether to facilitate running at a gentle pace.

Adding 1-3 warm-up miles and 1-3 cooldown miles will also help you increase your weekly mileage and thus increase your aerobic capacity. Warm-up and cooldown miles will increase your endurance, reduce your risk of injury, and make your workout more mentally manageable and physiologically beneficial—so why not tack on a few to your next workout?

Questions of the Day:
How do you warm up and cool down from your run?
How long does it take for you to feel warmed up on a run?

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22 Responses

  1. You know, I never used to warm up before my races. Not until this year! And I still don’t warm up before my regular runs. But I’ll warm up before a track or tempo run, for sure. It takes me about 2 miles to warm up properly, and then I’ll stretch for a bit. Then I’m good to go!

    1. 2 miles is the perfect warm up for tempos or track! That’s how long it usually takes me to warm up also. Based on your awesome PR this week, I’d say your warm-up for races works well!

  2. Great info- I definitely agree that its so important to get in a solid warm up and cool down. I always slack about cooling down after a race (like a 5k) and then end up a little more stiff and sore than if I had kept moving for a bit. I think it helps that they are usually built into training plans, so we are more likely to do them!

    1. Thank you! Having a warm-up and cooldown written into the training plan definitely helps remind and motivate us to do them. I would be bad about cooling down after a %K – I would just want to sit down after running that hard!

  3. I always give myself a good mile to get warmed up as I run (I just incorporate it into my run) and that last mile (over the same ground as the warm up) to cool out a bit. It is easy to do because that mile is the most curvy and “hilly” of all the other miles! But it gives me a chance to get my legs underneath me, get my brain engaged.

  4. I usually give myself the first 10-15 minutes of my run time to adjust to being awake (early morning runner over here!) and I tend to walk for a few minutes after I finish my run. I’m better about warming up and cooling down when I run on the treadmill, but when I’m running from my apartment outside, I usually just start and end my run at my door. 🙂

    1. Warming up is so important for early morning runs – got to wake up those legs! I’m a bit jealous you can just run from your apartment – I have to drive for good trails and miss being able to do that! 🙂

  5. I don’t formally “warm up” before my morning easy runs, but I do take it very easy on the first mile of the run. Typically my first mile is a good 30 seconds slower pace than the others, and I think warming up or starting off slower is a great idea for early runs when you’ve been sleeping all night. It amazes me at how many runners do not warm up or cool down, as well as those who say a 5K race is “too short” for them because they just run the 3.1 miles, and when I warm up and cooldown it turns into a 6-8 mile run for me. You’re right that warmup/cooldown does increase your weekly mileage- when I started doing them before races and workouts I noticed mine creeping up! Also I am less sore the next day.

    1. I can’t imagine running at 5K pace without warming up beforehand for a few miles and it surprised me at my last 10K how many runners weren’t warming up. You’re so right, a 5K and 10K turn into a really substantial run by warming up and cooling down – and makes for a better race.

  6. This summer was the 2nd time that I followed a plan for my Labor Day Half-Marathon (which was #12). It was the first time that I ever consciously incorporated warm-up miles/time into any of my runs; I would TRY to go for some cool-down time, as well but I typically end up being semi-pressed for time whenever I run. I am not sure how this all may have affected my end-all performance on race day, but I know it definitely helped add miles to my week…and that…that made me feel like a million bucks! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I recently started making the first mile of my long runs into a warm up mile by running it 15-30 seconds slower and it really does help! I hope it works for you! 🙂

  7. Brilliant post, and something I neglect far too often. I used to think I was saving energy for my run by skipping a warm up, but when I do a proper warm up my run feels so much easier. I’ll take your advice on board, and find a 1 mile marker from where I start on my runs. They are normally out and backs, so I’ll have my cool down marker too.. Thanks for posting this 🙂

    1. Some coaches will dispute this, but the majority belief is that w/u and c/d miles do count towards the 80% easy, since they are done at a low-intensity. That is why sometimes plans include long cool downs, to accumulate more time in the low-intensity zone.

    1. Hello! It’s recommended to have a minimum of 10 minutes, ideally 15-20 min, for a warm-up. If you are limited on time, then a cooldown will be shorter. If you have more time, then a cooldown can also be 10-20 min.

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