Proper Warm-Up and Cooldown. Are They Really Necessary?

David Adams talks about cooling down and warmups with a personal experience from his state record race in 1999. The views in this guest column are those of David Adams. 

Runners I've worked with have experienced issues, after failing to properly warm-up or cool down. This can lead to acute and chronic injuries. Adult runners are more at risk than younger runners, for obvious reasons, but no one is immune.  Skipping the warm-up seems like a surefire way to get injured, but what about the cool-down?

Watch the 1999 14:37 by David Adams | More guest columns by David Adams

The purpose of a cool down is to efficiently get back to your bodies resting state, so you begin to recover for your next workout or run. A cool-down slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure, gradually. This allows your body time to get loose, and prevents the pooling of blood in your extremities.

It also keeps the heart rate sufficiently elevated to send fresh blood to the muscles, with proteins and white blood cells that are needed to start healing any damage in the muscles. The blood also clears out any waste that's accumulated during exercise. If you don't bring your heart rate down gradually, and stop abruptly, especially after running hard, blood can pool in the legs. You don't want this - you want the blood moving all over, slowly and gradually, to facilitate recovery.

After arguably the best race of my life, breaking the state high school record in 1999, I forgot to cool down after being swarmed by reporters, friends, and family. I developed some sort of knee issue, similar to tendonitis. Looking back, I truly don't know what the injury was. To me, it was similar to "overuse" injuries I have been blessed with since but lasted only a month or so. I paid for this by being unable to run for the next 3 weeks leading up to Foot Locker South Regional and I ultimately missed qualifying for nationals by three places. 

During my days, only eight runners were plucked from each region, versus the 10 taken now. Nike Nationals was not yet an option. Some runners may have chosen that route, with their team, which might have freed up a few qualifying spots at Foot Locker, as well. I felt a huge responsibility to qualify. After all, I had just come off one of the fastest cross country races recorded by a high schooler.

The location of our State Championship at the time was Hilton Field, on the military base, Fort Jackson, in Columbia. That course was definitely more challenging compared to the eventual National Championship race location. Dathan Ritzenhein, the junior version of the ageless superstar, ended up running just two seconds faster on that Florida golf course. I can't say for sure, that I had the mental game to take him down, head-to-head. However, on that day, physically, I was capable of.

Now, I am not saying that a proper cool down was the only reason for my knee issues following State Meet. I believe it was an accumulation of things over the duration of the season: training load, speed, crushing the weights, and all sorts of other things. As I was getting stronger and faster, I was not spending very much time at all working on flexibility and mobility- definitely not enough to offset my gains in those other areas.

Add almost PR-ing (personal record or personal best) in the one mile and two-mile distances, within the State Championship 5K race, and it was enough to push me over the edge. Getting loose and easing myself back down after the race would have helped mediate some of these issues though, potentially starting a recovery process that could have saved the season. After all, my goal that year was to qualify, and the state record just kind of happened.

Runners are often not the biggest fans of strength training, either. In the past, weight training was frowned upon for distance runners, and deemed unnecessary. With clients I've worked within the past, this weight training was the first thing to go by the wayside, and believe me, I'm no different here either. I get it, we just want to spend our time running. However, when we mix strength, core and mobility work into our training plan we can see huge results. Not just in preventing injury but getting much faster and more athletic overall.

My final two years of high school saw a massive increase in my time spent in the weight room. On average I spent two mornings per week in the gym, working every muscle group and a few days per week in weight training class. After practice, my brother and I spent a minimum of an hour in the driveway, juking and shooting hoops. Before bedtime, I would do 100 pushups and 200 sit-ups with my dad. All of this no doubt contributed to my success, but I was skipping some simple things that could have contributed to lifelong injury avoidance.

Range of motion and mobility weren't big topics of the day, back then. We were static stretching before and after running. Dynamic stretching was on the rise and seemed super "woo-woo." With the increased sitting that takes place in school, more-so the older we get, we were beginning to set ourselves up for long term struggles with hip and ankle range of motion problems.

In my opinion, the best thing we can do for ourselves (and those around you), is simply... seek improvement, daily. Challenge yourself to do ALL of the things that are required to get just a bit better. This includes taking care of ourselves, ie: properly warming up and cooling down.

I know it's now been 20 years since my high school days, but I am sure, nothing much has changed. There is always something more exciting on the horizon than shifting and bouncing around like Richard Simmons in an attempt to stay injury-free. Wait, I'm sure no one in high school right now knows who that is. Anyways, take care of yourself and be thankful that you can run. Running will take you many places, and treat you well for a lifetime, as long as you take care of you, along the way.

David Adams, Hilton Head Class of 2000.