What’s the best way to warm up for jogging? The answer used to be to stretch and start off slow. More recently, the answers are clouded in clinical studies, systematic reviews, and expert opinion.
The true answer is, it depends. Everyone is different. Everyone’s jogging is different. Everyone’s training history is different. Everyone’s movement behaviour is different. And everyone requires an individual approach to waking up the nervous system so it can be at its most efficient.
However, there is one way to warm up for a jog everyone should include in their routine – skipping. Read on to understand why.
Download the Right Preparation Software
It is critical that your body is prepared for the force of jogging movement. Preparing your body means adapting it to hit the ground quickly and repetitively. That requires a nervous system with healthy hardware to detect contact from pressure on the skin, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Your nervous system also needs a software program that enables it to rebound off the ground quickly when it detects that contact.
Failing to have this hardware and software means inefficient jogging, wasted energy, faulty biomechanics, slower times, and increased soreness due to stress on tissues that shouldn’t have been stressed. For jogging, the hardware is doing other warm up elements like mobility preparation and light aerobic activity such as walking beforehand. The favourable software program is skipping.
Why Static Stretching is a Waste of Time
Your pre-jogging routine is likely one of two things – static stretching or dynamic movement. One of them wastes your time. The other enhances your results.
Let’s look at the time-waster first. One argument for static stretching is that it improves your range of movement. Well, jogging doesn’t actually require much range of movement. It only requires control of a short range of movement. So range of motion is not the reason you don’t jog well. That’s one argument for static stretching out the window.
“Foregoing skipping is fine if you’re an experienced jogger who rebounds from each step perfectly and doesn’t fall on each step. But those joggers are few and far between.”
Contrary to popular belief, having a better range of movement doesn’t protect you against injury. Indeed, having too much range of movement can be a risk factor for injury and decreased performance in some populations. In other populations, having more movement is associated with better performance. My point is that mobility is individual and context specific. Though there is evidence that static stretching might reduce musculotendinous injuries, static stretching probably improves range of motion through affecting the nervous system, not by lengthening muscles or tendons. And there are better ways of preparing your nervous system.
Your Feet Need to Bounce, Not Fall
The scientific literature points to dynamic movement preparation being the better option. The term dynamic means characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. This means actually moving, not standing and stretching. It means preparing your body fully for the demands of the upcoming task, with short and long-term performance gains as known side-effects. It’s not mobility we should be chasing, but control of that mobility, and this is where dynamic warm ups come into their own. For a morning jog, your nervous system just isn’t ready for the fatiguing reflex-driven control of the forces at play on your foot. You’ve got to help it out, and skipping is just the dynamic warm up to do so.
If you can’t hop on one foot repeatedly, your jogging is really just controlled falling onto your feet instead of rebounding from them. If you fall enough times, you’ll get hurt. So you must learn to bounce. A hop, as we do in skipping, requires control of a one-leg landing, using the elasticity in the tendons of the foot, ankle, knee, and hip to rebound you off the ground. You can’t skip by landing on your heel, so it forces you to make use of the elasticity in your feet.
When you activate these elastic reflexes in your foot tendons by skipping it triggers a reflex to control movement at the knee and hip as well, resulting in better landing control and more efficient biomechanics. This is exactly what thorough movement preparation should do: address impairments like lack of movement in a joint or tissue. It then needs to challenge that joint or tissue to coordinate within a pattern of movement at speeds and loads approaching that of the main element of training. The latter area is where skipping plays a particularly crucial role. It links the whole leg and core at forces above your bodyweight with a speed of foot contact similar to running.
The Ideal Skipping Prescription
How much should you skip? I’ll give you an answer: not just when your body is warmed up and you’ve broken a light sweat. Where I live, that can result from a minute or two of just walking. Your body is only fully prepared for jogging when you’ve maximally activated your nervous system to handle repetitive landings.
Skip for twenty percent of your warm up routine, or better yet, skip for twenty percent of your entire jogging time. This can be done all at once, or in small portions of minutes. For example, if you want to warm up for a ten-minute jog, skip for two minutes, or do thirty seconds for every two minutes of jogging. There’s no science to this twenty percent, but it does align with ratios of cardiovascular training for improved performance: approximately eighty percent of aerobic activity and twenty percent of a much higher demand activity.
You Can’t Afford to Skip Skipping
When Gray Cook said “you can skip a step, but don’t miss a step,” he meant that it’s okay to not do some elements of evaluation, if you know that you won’t miss something very important.
When you don’t skip in your jogging warm up you do miss something important: the signal to your nervous system to control the landing of your feet. Foregoing skipping is fine if you’re an experienced jogger who rebounds from each step perfectly and doesn’t fall on each step. But those joggers are few and far between. It’s likely that you can’t afford to skip skipping.