Focusing on warm-ups and warm-downs
What’s the best way for a track athlete to warm up and warm down? If you’re looking for simple answers, University of Arkansas men’s track coach Chris Bucknam isn’t your man. “It gets complicated quickly,” he said.
But Bucknam’s history of success at Arkansas and Northern Iowa means he’s certainly worth learning from, even if one size doesn’t fit all.“It depends on the day and what we’re doing,” said Bucknam, and it also depends on the event. Bucknam works mostly with middle distance and distance runners.
“If we’re doing an eight-mile run,” said Bucknam (which he does a couple times a week), “we have them go for two or three minutes at a pace that’s conversational. So the warmup is included in the run — and for lack of a technical term, we then want them going at a non-conversational pace the rest of the way.”
There is one constant, though. “Before they run, we have a 15-minute core workout routine using medicine balls. At the college level, the problem is making sure everyone’s at the same place at the same time, so they’re taught to do it on their own.”
On those days that the athletes work on the track, it’s a different story. “They do more warming up, more strides and work on getting the body ready to go,” he said. “Common sense tells you need a more intense warm-up.”
But common sense doesn’t think much about warm-downs — Bucknam does.
“When they get done,” he said, “we like them to do five to 10, 80-meter strides, many times in bare feet on grass. The strides are faster than their run but not a sprint — the nervous system remembers the faster pace.
“We like to run on non-hard surfaces. Over a year, uneven terrain strengthens the foot and lower leg. Barefoot running also strengthens the bottom of the feet and the lower leg.”
One warm-down Bucknam likes is what he calls the cross drill. The athletes stride from one end of the infield diagonally across to the other end, and then jog straight across the short end of the field to the other curve. Then they stride diagonally to the opposite curve.
One thing that’s important, though, is to supervise the warm-downs (and warm-ups, for that matter). “I don’t like to do these in groups,” Bucknam said. “Talking is a distraction … in a group, the opportunity to be distracted is a lot greater. The bigger groups become sloppy with joking around and talking.
“At the end of workouts, we also have some athletes do hurdle drills — but slower, with their hands over their heads. They have to cycle their legs to work on their mobility. We like to do these at the end of workouts because they warmed up,” he said.
Bucknam feels it’s important to work on the hips and hip mobility. “If you can visualize middle-distance runners over the last 100 or 150 yards, you visualize them locking up,” he said, and the freer the hips, the less likely that is to happen. It’s also important to be able to sprint at the end of middle distance and distance races.
Bucknam also uses the warm-ups and warm-downs to work on form. “We have them stride on the lane lines so we can see if they stay on a straight line and they can see it themselves.
“All these things accumulate into a better runner,” he said. “It doesn’t happen over a few weeks — it happens over a year.”
Finally, Bucknam believes every workout should end with fluids. “It’s extremely vital to have a recovery drink during the warm-down,” he said. “Right after the workout, you get the most benefit out of it.”