A few hard exercises after an easy jog should boost your performance.
If you’re like many runners, your warmup before a race or hard workout consists of 10 to 20 minutes of easy running, plus wondering why others are exhausting themselves with form drills, plyometrics, and short accelerations.
But new research adds to the evidence that you should join those doing more ambitious warmups if you want to run your best.
For a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, researchers at the Memorial University of Newfoundland had 12 male runners (with 5K bests ranging from 16:15 to 22:12) do an interval workout on two occasions. The workout was five one-kilometer repeats, done as quickly as possible, with three minutes of standing/walking recovery between kilometers. The warmup before each workout was the same, except that one included a plyometric exercise: a series of band-resisted squat jumps.
The results were striking: On average, the runners’ total time for the five 1K repeats was 3.6 percent faster when their warmup included the squat jumps. For a runner who would usually average 4:30 per kilometer (22:30 5K pace) in such a workout, a 3.6 percent improvement would mean running the repeats 9.7 seconds faster.
The apparent effect of the preworkout plyos was especially dramatic on the first 1K interval—it was 8 percent faster than the lead-off repeat when the runners warmed up “normally.”
The researchers ascribe the difference to what they call “post-activation potentiation” (PAP) caused by the squat jumps. By measuring the muscle contractions before, during, and after the workouts, the researchers were able to show that, in essence, more of the fibers in the runners’ leg muscles were firing after the squat jumps. That increased muscle activation, in turn, allowed the muscles to produce greater force, leading to faster kilometer repeats.
Jonathan Low, lead researcher on the study, told Runner’s World that other pre-workout plyometrics could have similar benefits. The video below shows one alternative that would be easy to do before your run.
Banded Star Jacks
Place a small resistance band around the ankles and stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Jump the feet apart as you raise both hands overhead (so body forms a star with head, hands, and feet as the points). Jump the feet together as you bring the arms back down to sides. Continue at a moderate pace for intervals of 30 to 60 seconds. (Find more resistance band exercises recommended by running coaches.)
The key, Low said, is that the movements should be done at the right resistance and intensity. “The most academically cited resistance/intensity combination is a fast, explosive maneuver at around five to seven rep max,” Low said.
In the study, the runners did four sets of five squat jumps, anchored by a band wrapped around their shoulders and connected to weights, which made the jumps more challenging. The weight for each runner was his five-rep max for the jumps; the runners took two minutes of rest between the jump sets. So again, hard, hard work, the kind that many of us might think would hinder rather than help soon before an interval session. (The runners started the interval workout eight minutes after the last set of squat jumps.)
It should be noted that, of the 12 runners, eight had faster repeats after the squat jumps, two performed essentially the same, and two were a little slower. The disparity could stem in part from the runners being unfamiliar with the squat jumps—they had one session before the two workouts to determine their five-rep max.
Bottom line: If you’re now eager to add plyometrics to your workout and race warmup, do a few sessions, a few days apart, before adding them to your hardest running days.
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