As a personal trainer and coach, one of the questions I am asked is; why does that first mile feel so uncomfortable? The same question is asked by people doing 1/4 mile interval track workouts or any track workout for that matter. In fact this phenomenon is experienced when participating in any cardio activity.
The reason this happens is because of something called steady state. When you are sitting, your heart and lungs are supplying the muscles with adequate oxygen to do their job. You are in steady state. If you start walking you are taken out of steady state so your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply the muscles with the increased demand for oxygen. However, you really don’t notice it since the change of steady state is so small.
But when you start jogging, your muscles have to work significantly harder. But they don’t have enough oxygen to perform at this higher level of intensity. This puts you into oxygen debt. You go anaerobic. That is what causes the uncomfortable sensation. Your heart and lungs now have to work harder to get adequate oxygen to cover the new load. The length of time it takes to catch up depends on the intensity of the activity. Once your heart and lungs do catch up, you go aerobic again and now become more comfortable. You are at a new steady state where your heart and lungs are supplying enough oxygen to the working muscles. This is what they always called “getting your second wind.”
The warm-up is essential. By slowly increasing the physical stress on your body you gradually increase the demand for oxygen by your muscles. Your heart rate and breathing are able to adjust and supply enough oxygen to cover the increased demands of your working muscles and help prevent that uncomfortable feeling associated with the start of your cardio workout. However, the warm-up isn’t just to increase the blood flow to supply more oxygen to the working muscles. The increased blood flow also helps increase the core temperature of your working muscles and connective tissues, making them more pliable.
So what should you do? An active warm up, also called a dynamic warm up, is the key. Some suggestions include but are not limited to:
- Walking or easy running for 5 to 10 minutes. If you are walking, throw a few easy jogs for 10 to 20 seconds every minute. This will help to kick start your cardio system.
- Jogging or running in place.
- Jumping jacks are great for the whole body and also will kick start your cardio system.
- Swinging the arms for arms and shoulders.
- Arm circles for your shoulders.
- A few push-ups or modified push-ups for the chest, arms and shoulder.
- Trunk twists for the core.
- Leg swings side to side and forward and back for your hips.
- Pretend you are stepping over a fence forward and backward for your hips.
- High knee jogging or bringing your heals to your butt for your legs.
- A few lunges and squats for the legs.
It is important to remember that during the warm-up the key is to keep the intensity low. If you are preparing for a running event or workout, gradually pick up the intensity or add some strides the get your body ready for the increased oxygen needs your body will require. Don’t skip the warm-up. It is as important then the workout itself.