Cross country running coaches are always looking for new components to add to an already effective cross country warm up unit for their athletes, or are perhaps just looking for a set routine because their present one is too haphazard and unorganized. What would constitute a proper warm-up or sound daily stretching and flexibility routine for cross country runners?
Unless the temperature is above 60 degrees F, the athletes should be fully clothed with a minimum of one layer of windproof fabric on both the top and bottom of the body as they begin their warm-up unit.
In order to attain a full range of motion, they should first conduct a dynamic stretching and flexibility routine that contains elements that will warm the muscles without compromising force production. When the muscles are cold, cross country runners tend to quickly over-stretch the muscles of the leg by rapidly expanding their normal range of motion. This activity in essence causes a temporary lessening of force production from those muscles. Since running requires a certain amount of force production depending on the desired intensity, this becomes problematic.
Because this initial general stretching is designed to be light in intensity, athletes tend to not take it seriously. Some attempt by the coach to keep the runners on task at this point is necessary. This component can be completed in 5-10 minutes.
The runners should continue their cross country warm up routine with a moderate run of 8-10 minutes as to break a sweat and attain a pulse rate of 120 beats per minute. Usually, most athletes will have to wear athletic shoes and run a large portion of their jog/run on cement or asphalt surfaces. However, it is often possible to run the daily warm-up and warm-down barefoot on the infield grass of the stadium, or the surrounding soccer fields at most high schools. The run should lead into a series of 80 meter accelerations with a short jogging recovery.
The runners should then proceed into focused and active static and dynamic drills that are both stationary and lateral in movement. This part of the warm-up contains the most variability in unit construction. In general, the slower that the main activity of the session is to be, then the less active warm-up time is needed. Base runs, long runs, and recovery runs need very little active warm-up time and with few components. However, speed, speed endurance, special endurance 1, special endurance 2, aerobic power, and tempo runs require a full and active portion of the warm-up with many components.
Related: The Tempo Run
The drills that are done during this active warm-up can also serve as a level of core strength work and used to develop more effective running biomechanics if done properly. Like all drills, the athletes need to be carefully watched and corrected by the coach. The active cross country warm up should gradually build up to and slightly exceed the prescribed pace that will be undertaken in the main unit of the session. Athletes will then be ready to move on to the theme of the day.
It is important to realize that cross country runners are generally not good at the bio-motor skills of flexibility and coordination. For this reason, they will do much of their warm-up too quickly and awkwardly. A proper coaching cue is to not rush through it and emphasize the importance of what is done properly. It is in that way that they will habitually initiate a quality warm-up on race day when there is commotion everywhere and they are away from your coaching view.
Components of a Proper Cross Country Warm-up
Light static at the start (you design the sequence but work big to small muscles)
- Glut stretch
- Hurdle stretch each side
- Cherry pickers
- Push against the wall
- Leg crossovers
- Shoulder/arm rolls
- 20 bent-knee sit-ups.
- 20 abdominal crunches.
- 20 jumping jacks.
- 20 mountain climbers
Active with jog between (this sequence)
- 30 meters of walking lunges.
- 30 meters of ankling
- 40 meters of straight-leg bounding.
- 40 meters of bent-leg (regular) bounding.
- 40 meters of power skipping.
- 30 meters of skipping for height
- 40 meters of triple jump running
- 40 meters side-slide on both sides
- 40 meters of carioca on both sides
- 40 meters of backward thrust running
- 40 meters all out sprint
If you are unfamiliar with these drills or terminology they are easily found online.
Scott Christensen is the head track coach at Stillwater Area High School in Oak Park Heights, MN.