It’s essential to warm-up properly before going from your deskbound job to an evening run. Here’s why tight muscles can lead to injury and what you can do to reduce your risk
It’s no secret that being seated for long periods of time is unhealthy. Research carried out at Loughborough University involving almost 800,000 people revealed that those who spend a long time sitting have an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So it sounds like a good idea to run at the end of a sedentary day, especially as we know that it will improve heart health and reduce diabetes risk.
However, if your muscles are tight and your posture is poor after hours of sitting, you could risk injury if you run without taking time to mobilise, stretch and warm-up beforehand.
Why sitting is bad for you
If you sit for long periods, you may suffer from low back pain. The discs are compressed unevenly, so the back can be stiff and tight. Muscles, tendons and ligaments are also under tension, as they are holding onto the vertebrae when we slouch. As we’re not using our back muscles, these structures get stretched and fatigued, leading to discomfort.
Leg muscles can also be affected. If you sit with your legs at 90 degrees all day and rarely extend your hip flexors, hips and quadriceps can become short and tight. Your hamstrings are also affected, which limits range of motion and will therefore affect stride length when you run. The same applies to your calf muscles. As you sit, they may get tight due to lack of movement at the ankle and if they are short and inflexible this can increase the chance of an Achilles injury.
Posture can be affected too. The upper back muscles can get very loose and your chest can become tight as a result of slouching. This could affect your breathing when you run, as it’s best to run with the chest lifted (to open up the ribcage and allow plenty of oxygen to reach the lungs).
So it’s important to try to release any tightness in the muscles before running. Here is our guide to the best moves to get you ready for a run…
Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees soft. Gently turn your head to the right, and bring it back to the centre. Repeat to the left. Do four or five repetitions on each side.
Standing upright in the same position, keep your arms straight (without locking the elbows) and gradually roll the shoulders back, making small circles. Increase the size of the circles as the shoulders begin to feel more mobile. Do five repetitions.
Stand upright with your knees soft and feet hip width apart. Keeping your arms at chest height, bring them out to the sides, with palms facing outwards, keeping your arms straight but without locking the elbows. As you do this, push your chest out. Repeat five times.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees soft. Making sure your legs stay still, place your hands just above chest height with your elbows bent, fingers touching and gently rotate to the right. Come back to the centre and gently rotate to the left. Make sure you have a good upright posture and don’t twist the lower part of the body.
Stand facing forwards with slightly soft knees. Pull the belly button in and gently move the hips in a circle. Try to keep the knees soft and the shoulders as still as possible, generating the movement from the hips. Do five circles, and change direction.
Stand with feet and knees together and legs bent. Place your hands on the lower part of your thighs. Gently rotate the knees in a small circle. Do five circles, and change direction.
Stand upright and gently sweep the right ankle round in semi-circle. Repeat and do the same with the left ankle.
All of the stretches here should be done continuously, i.e. without stopping during any part of the stretch. Do five stretches on each leg.
Stand with a good upright posture, and bring one bent leg back behind you as if you were trying to kick yourself on the bottom. Repeat on the other leg. Alternate between left and right.
Stand with one foot about a stride length in front of the other. Bend the front knee while you push the hip forward of the back leg, stretching the front of the hip. Repeat on the other leg.
Stand with a good upright posture and, keeping the legs straight, swing one leg backwards and forwards, making sure the movement is coming only from the leg. Keep the torso upright. Repeat five times and then repeat on the other leg.
Find a step or kerb near a wall where you can hold on for balance. Keeping your body upright, gently place one foot to the edge of the step, letting the heel drop backwards, and rise upwards onto your toes. Repeat five times then change legs and repeat on the other leg.
The warm up
Warming up gradually raises the heart rate and mobilises the joints by releasing synovial fluid, a lubricating fluid that ‘oils’ the joints, preparing them for a run.
Start with a slow walk into a brisk walk and then go into a gentle jog over a five-minute period. The first five minutes of the run should be at a very comfortable pace. The next five minutes of the run should be at a moderate pace. If you are in the gym, using a low impact machine like the cross-trainer to warm up is a good option.
About the author
Ronhill is delighted to work with Christina Macdonald, a highly experienced fitness writer and editor with more than 20 years’ of experience in media. A keen runner herself, she has completed numerous 5K and 10K events, ten half marathons and two marathons. She is also a qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer and running group leader. Christina is on the board as Contributing Editor for Women’s Running in addition to owning her own content company, Healthy Content. Follow her @writefitchris