Warm ups and cool downs play a crucial part in not only enhancing what you get out of a session, but how your mind and body reacts to it afterwards.
A good warm up (And I tend to define that by at least 10 minutes of running) gives your muscles, bones and joints a chance to loosen, and also to steadily increase your heart rate so you are ready to adapt into doing drills or a session.
Crucially though, warm ups play an important mental role for running. Warm ups serve as a mental transition from a relaxed or sedentary state, to one where we accept the reality of needing to run fast etc. This is crucial to allow us to start a session in the right mindset and be ready to go. This is also a crucial as a general training benefit, as a good confident start to a session where the mind feels ready to go can help your performance throughout.
Many of us have different preferences when it comes to distances in warms ups. The truth is there's no right or wrong answer, so like many things it's a case of understanding what your body responds to best and experimenting with time, distance etc. I would recommend at least 10 minutes personally. The type of session can play into this too. The shorter more intense the session is, the greater the need for a longer warm up to condition the mind and muscles to prepare for it.
Now this one has been a real test of discipline for some of us! Even if your legs feel fine, or you simply don't want to run after a workout, a decent cool down can have just as much of a training benefit as a warm up.
There has been some debate within the running community on the effectiveness of a cool down. In general cool downs can assist in lowering your body temperature and heart rate to return to their normal levels. However I feel like a lot of the attention devoted to cool downs mainly focus on the physical aspects. The mental benefit I think is where they really come into use.
Cool downs represent the mental transition from a hard session where you have devoted an enormous amount of emotional and physical energy, to a post-session relaxed state. A mistake people make is to simply run a hard session and go home, back to this 'relaxed state'. However you may find the sessions swirling around in your head or your mind still has not shut off from being in a situation of either extreme concentration or moderate to high pain. As such, a cool down can gradually recondition your mind into being more relaxed, making it easier for you to feel more satisfied after a workout and to switch off.
Cooling down with others is also something I really value and recommend as some of you are aware. When you have ran a hard session, an informal and relaxed discussion with a fellow athlete afterwards can help in this process of mentally clearing out your head. It also allows you time to vent any frustration at any disappointment in performance, and to get a better perspective from others at how you did. Alternatively cool downs can allow you to get support from others on such things like a good session performance, thereby giving you a good confidence boost.
All in all cool downs can help with your mental well being after a session, and help you condition your brain to go back to a relaxed state. They can help to put the session into perspective, to feel more content after a session, and to spend more quality time with your fellow friends/athletes who have endured the same pain, or had the same concerns as you have.
Again like with warm ups, there's no right or wrong answer on the duration of cool downs. They should be ran at an extremely comfortable and slow pace that allows your heart rate to gradually drop. Again, I tend to go for at least 10 minutes, but experiment and see what works best for you. A 2 min jog down a road and back is not recommended, you want to feel like you've actually done something!!
So, don't forget your warm ups and cool downs! You may not want to do either sometimes, especially the latter (!) but like most things in running it is about establishing a routine and appreciating that it is the little inconveniences that can have the biggest rewards. Cameron Harris- Head Coach