Rolling out of bed is only half the battle of early morning runs. The next hurdle to jump before hitting the pavement is the muscle tightness and stiffness.
"When you're sleeping, your muscles are largely inactive. Blood flow to muscles responds to demand, so when your muscles are resting, there is a reduction in circulation — your muscles are cooled down and they stiffen up," Chelsea Long, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist at HSS Sports Rehabilitation and Performance, explained.
Long likened it to clay or silly putty that has been sitting out, but gets more pliable when you start warming it up in your hands.
Joint stiffness and tightness is also common come morning because, as Long explained, fluid in the joint has settled "like oil in a parked car."
Your solution? A thoughtful warmup, which Long said literally warms up the tissues and prepares them for a run.
"By increasing your body temperature and blood flow through simple, safe activation movements that also increase range of motion and 'wake up' the muscle belly, you are priming the fascia (protective casing around the muscles), the ligaments of your joints, and the joint itself," Long said.
Before a morning workout, Long suggested dynamic stretching and/or a foam-rolling routine to reduce the chances of muscle pulls, strains, or tears.
"A dynamic stretching or foam rolling routine will give you the best bang for your buck when it comes to preparedness for exercise," Long said.
"Think about your early morning adventures running through your town or city: wet sidewalks and streets, delivery vehicles coming in and out driveways, uneven pavement, icy conditions in the Winter, and the sun that blinds you when you make that one turn — all these aspects can be a surprise to you and possibly dangerous."
To protect itself, your body needs to be able to respond efficiently and with great speeds — think leaping out of the way, cutting sideways, and varying your speed and stride.
"These are all circumstances where a primed muscle can work more efficiently. While running, even in the first mile while you're building a base, your muscles need to be able to contract and lengthen at fast speeds, in sequence, absorbing forces and producing power."
Long also added that a muscle that isn't warmed up or primed also has a greater risk of injury. So, after lacing up your sneakers, make time for a warmup and try these simple routines and tips, courtesy of Long, ahead.
(Remember: if stiffness doesn't go away or gets worse upon exercising, speak with your doctor before starting a running program.)
Before getting started, familiarize yourself with these foam rolling rules of thumb.
- Roll slowly.
- Never roll directly on a joint. For example, avoid rolling your neck, knees, ankles, etc.
- Focus your weight on the part of your body that is on the roller and use other body parts to keep your weight over the roller.
- Don't put your weight in your hands or elbows, but instead use them as points of contact to stabilize yourself.
Rule of 3s:
Long said that your quadriceps, glutes, and calves are "primary movers for running" and can all be foam-rolled through various techniques. Follow these three techniques below on each area you roll. The entire process can be repeated two or three times if needed.
- First, slowly roll up and down to identify any trigger points or barriers in the tissue. Repeat three times.
- Second, hold your weight over this area and slowly rock side to side or move your limb back and forth like a windshield wiper or a figure eight. Repeat three times.
- Third, focus your weight over that area and slowly bend and straighten the nearest joint (for example, bend and straighten your knee when you are working on your thighs, your ankle when working on your calves, and roll your thigh in and out when working on your hips.) Repeat three times.
This warmup can be completed as many times as you need to feel prepped for your morning run.
- Bridges: 10 reps
This stretch wakes up your glutes and stretches your hip flexors.
- Single-leg bridges: 5 reps each leg
Get each glute to activate separately since while you run you are transitioning from one leg to the other.
- Dead bugs: 10 reps each leg
This is a core warmup and primer to help with control of your hips while running. Less lateral movement in the hips while running is better for hip and knee integrity.
- Inchworms: 5 reps
Activating your posterior chain by elongating and stretching your hamstrings will help prep them for the stretch shortening cycle of a muscle contraction.
- Forward lunge with a twist: 5 reps each leg
Balance, stability, and stride are all functions of a run or complex movement that we should practice prior to asking our bodies to do it at higher speeds and forces.
- Hip-hugger stretch: 10 reps each leg
- Standing on one leg and keeping good posture with your shoulders pulled back, bring one knee up and hug it to your chest for five seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side. This can be continuously repeated for multiple sets, alternating legs.
While going back and forth between hip hugs, your glutes are getting an active stretch. Your hips are getting comfortable with a deeper range of motion, and because you are standing on one leg, your core musculature is warming up and prepping for the single-leg movements while you run.
- Leg swings: 10 reps each leg
Standing on one leg, swing your opposite leg forwards and backwards while keeping your hips and core stable. This allows the hip joint to move back and forth with power and momentum, warming up for those longer strides while you run.