How to Warm Up Before a Run

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Warming up should be a part of every runner’s routine, but many runners—casual and competitive—forget about it or don’t do it to the extent they should. But failing to do a proper warm-up can mean you don’t perform well during the run.

There are definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to how to warm up before a run. Get it right; you can expect improved performance, less fatigue, and a lower chance of injury.

Here’s our tried-and-tested advice on how to warm up before a run safely, properly, and effectively. Whatever your running level, doing this right will make a big difference!

Why Is It Important to Warm Up Before a Run?

Warming up before a run helps to prime the muscle, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues for what’s to come.

Doing movements at a slow, light intensity during a warm-up helps to loosen up the joints and muscles, so they’re not stiff when you start doing more intense movements.

It also helps more blood to flow to the muscles, which helps them to warm up and become supple and ready for more strenuous movement. Warm, limber muscles are far less likely to pull, tear, or suffer soreness during or after a workout.

It’s also a great time to get in the right frame of mind for your workout. Warming up mindfully can help improve your mind-muscle connection and boost proprioception, which may positively affect your workout.

Your warm-up can be a valuable tool both physically and psychologically!

Benefits of Warming Up Before Running

The benefits of warming up before running far outweigh the time it takes. If you do your warm-up correctly, you can look forward to the following:

Better Circulation

Just 10 minutes of warming up gets your heart beating faster, which means the blood is pumped around your body faster than usual. The arteries, veins, and capillaries dilate—open wider—to accommodate blood flow.

This means that oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood can flow more freely to the muscles, giving them everything they need to start your workout strong.

Improved Cardiovascular Performance

As your heart beats faster and your blood vessels dilate, your body can distribute more oxygen around the body more quickly.

This not only improves circulation but also helps to increase your VO2 max—the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. The more oxygen you can use, the better you perform.

Better Muscle Performance

When the body temperature increases, oxygen is released from the blood more quickly, making it available to your muscles. This means you’ll start stronger and have more strength and stamina throughout your run.

Combining more blood flow and increased body temperature also makes the muscles “warmer” and more supple. This means there’s less resistance during our range of motion, so your muscles can work at full capacity.

Less Chance of Injury

Between warming up the muscles and loosening tight, stiff joints, your range of motion increases significantly in preparation for a more intense workout.

This means you’re much less likely to tear, pull, or strain something during your workout, especially since nutrient-rich blood constantly moves through the tissues.

Improved Proprioception

Proprioception is an important concept that improves the mind-muscle connection. Warming up has you performing movements at slower, more deliberate intensities than during your actual workout, which can improve your proprioception.

Better proprioception also means a lower chance of injury, as your awareness of your own limbs and their movements is heightened.

Types of Warm Ups

There are various types of warm-ups you can do. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so choose carefully. Here are some of the popular warm-up activity options:

Static Stretching

Static stretching is a commonly used technique during warming up. You stretch the muscle as much as you can without feeling pain and then hold it at that point for between 20 and 40 seconds. Then you switch sides and do two to three reps.

Some examples of static stretches include a calf stretch against a wall, the quadriceps stretch, and the standing IT band stretch.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves stretching the muscles and moving the joints through their range of motion simultaneously. It’s a more functional movement than static stretching, and helps to get your heart rate going and increase your temperature a touch.

Some examples of dynamic stretches include walking lunges, arm circles, hip circles, and even squats.

Is Dynamic or Static Stretching Better for Running?

Many runners do static stretches as part of their warm-up routine as they can help to increase flexibility. However, they can negatively impact performance if done during a warm-up—it’s a much better option for cooling down.

Dynamic stretches increase blood flow, loosen tight joints, and prepare the muscles for the work that’s to come. All those factors are effective at getting your muscles ready for exercise, much more effective than static stretches.

We recommend doing a dynamic warm-up and leaving static stretching for your cool-down. Static stretches will help lower your heart rate, remove lactic acid, and relax any muscles that may already tighten up after your workout.

This can help reduce muscle soreness which may help you recover more quickly.

How to Do a Running Warmup

Here’s what we suggest doing to make the most of your running warm-up. Follow these foolproof tips to make sure your warmup is effective.

Start With Light Aerobic Exercise

You want to begin by increasing your heart rate and blood flow. Light aerobic exercise is best for this, but don’t overdo it.

You can take a brisk walk, a slow jog, or a cycle on a stationary bike. Start at a low intensity and stick to it for 3 to 4 minutes.

Shift into a jog around 4 or 5 minutes in. This will increase blood flow and body temperature, helping you warm up faster. You can jog for 4 to 5 minutes. If you want to, you can also throw in a few strides.

Dynamic Stretching

You can incorporate dynamic stretching for the remainder of your warm-up—two to four minutes. This will help prepare the skeletal muscle for the exercise you’re going through.

Try to stretch each muscle group you’re going to be using, including stabilizer muscles—quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, calves, abdominals, and shoulders.

How Long Should I Warm-up Before Running?

The ideal warm-up length depends on how long and intense you plan to run. The more intense the workout is planned to be, the longer your warm-up should be. For example:

  • 5k run: 20-minute warm-up: 10 minutes aerobic, 10 minutes dynamic stretches.
  • Half-marathon/marathon: 10 to 15-minute warm-up, 5 minutes aerobic, 5 to 10 minutes dynamic stretching.

Dynamic Stretches to Do Before Running

If you want to supercharge your warm-up routine, try adding these dynamic stretches. They cover almost every muscle and get the heart pumping!

Standing High Pull

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Lift one knee and grab it with both hands. In a smooth, fluid motion, pull it up toward your chest, lifting slightly onto your opposite toe as you do so. Lower your leg, and then do the next rep.

You can switch between legs or do all the reps on one side first before switching legs. This can help you get into a smoother motion, which can raise your heart rate a little more.

Heel to Butt

Also known as butt kicks, this involves running in place and touching your butt with your heels as you do so. You can do this quite dynamically, which will boost your heart rate and get the blood flowing.

High Knees

High knees is the opposite of butt kicks. You run in place, lifting your knees as high as you can. Run in place for a minute or two, at a high intensity.

Glute Bridges

These are great for warming up the glutes. Lie on your back with your feet planted flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. Keep your shoulder blades flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes, and lift your butt off the floor, keeping your back straight.

Slowly lower yourself back down again to the starting position. Perform 5 to 8 of these for a full round. Ensure you’re squeezing your glutes and not just pushing up with your legs!

Hamstring Scoop

Stand tall and extend one foot slightly out in front of you. Lift your toes while keeping your heel on the ground. Hinge at the hips and swing your arms down beside your outstretched leg. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring.

“Scoop” your arms upwards as you stand, returning to the starting position. This counts as one rep. You can alternate between sides or do 5 to 8 reps on one side before switching.

Hip Rotation

This is a pretty easy movement to do. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your feet flat on the ground and with your hands on your hips, begin moving your hips in a circular motion. You can alternate between moving clockwise and counterclockwise if you want to.

Leg Swings

Stand next to a wall, with the wall at your side. Brace yourself against it and lift the foot that’s furthest from the wall. Swing it from front to back, going through your full range of motion without straining your leg. Do 5 to 8 reps on each leg.

Walking Lunges

Rather than doing a static lunge, opt for walking lunges. Stand with the feet hip-width apart. Brace your core, keep your back straight, and step forward into a lunge. Rather than pushing back to the back foot, instead, bring the back foot forward to meet the front foot.

From there, go into a lunge with the alternating leg. You will need some space for these as you’re walking forwards with each lunge. Make sure to keep your form throughout the movement.

Step-Ups

Find a box or high step. Stand on the ground in front of it. Place one foot on the box or step and lift yourself up, bringing your opposite knee up to your chest and then lowering yourself again to the ground. Do 5 to 8 reps before switching legs.

A-Skips

A-skips are a staple of running warmups! You’ve probably seen many runners doing them. It’s a sort of hybrid between a jog and a skip and involves you lifting your front knees high and alternating legs as you move forward.

Mountain Climbers

Start in a pushup position, with your arms extended. “Run in place”, lifting each knee to your chest and bringing it back down. You can do this quite quickly, and it’s an excellent way to get your heart rate going!

Shoulder Squeeze

You can do this seated or standing. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Think about touching your shoulder blades together, squeezing them downwards and together as much as possible.

You may find it more comfortable to bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle and then squeeze.

Shoulder Rolls

Relax your shoulders and roll them upwards towards your ears, backwards, and continue in a circular motion. You can roll backward a few times and forward a few times, however many you like.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.