Back in the day, we were told a warm up for runners was a sequence of contorting static stretches.
Gradually, the sports science has moved on and proven these old routines were not effective.
Runners ditched the warm-up (if they ever did them at all), and got used to just heading out the door and starting running.
But if you’re skipping your warm up, it turns out you’re missing out on performance benefits, better running form, and injury prevention!
Let’s look at why a runner should warm up, and how to warm up for runners!
Why Should You Warm Up Before a Run?
The main reason to warm up is to prevent injuries.
About 50% of runners become injured every year in a manner which prevents them from working out. In fact, 90% of runners wind up missing at least one workout because of an injury.
One reason for this high rate of injuries?
Runners simply do not warm up!
Running is a high impact sport that can take its toll on your ankles, knees, and hips.
If you are weak, inflexible, or imbalanced, then you can easily become injured.
When you warm up, you significantly reduce your chances of becoming injured.
This is because a warm-up makes sure that your muscles can perform at their full range of movement. It will make you more flexible and able to move naturally. It also means you’ll be much more efficient when you run (improved running economy), letting you go for longer and faster.
The goal when you warm up is to activate the parts of your body that you’ll use the most when you run. So, you’ll want to focus on getting your glutes activated and priming your ankles, knees, and hips.
Getting these muscles primed also means that your blood vessels will dilate in these areas, so they’ll get plenty of oxygen before you start working them.
The good news is that a warm up for runners only takes about 5 minutes and will make a big difference in your performance in the long run, especially when following an intense training plan.
Should I Stretch Before I Run?
Before we talk about what stretches to do before a run, let’s cover what you shouldn’t do.
It’s important not to do static stretches before a run.
This is because stretching cold muscles can lead to serious injuries.
Think of your muscles as a rubber band. When a rubber band is cold, and you pull it on, it can break. The same is true for your muscles! You need them to be warm and limber before doing static stretching. So, save static stretches for your cool down. (Which we’ll talk about in the next article!)
With static stretches out, what’s the alternative?
These are stretches that involve movement and don’t require you to hold a position for long periods. So, you’ll be moving around a lot, which will get your heart rate up as well! (This is also good news because slowly raising your heart rate minimizes any stress that your heart may come under when you take off running.)
How To Warm Up Properly Before a Run
There are lots of great options for how to warm up before your run!
If you’re at a gym, or have a bike or elliptical at your home, then you can hop on for 5 – 10 minutes and slowly get your heart rate up. Start slow and very gradually build your intensity.
You can also do warm-ups that focus on specific body parts while also raising your heart rate.
Here are some examples of how to warm up for runners:
Leg Swings – Front to Back
This stretch is excellent for opening up your hip flexor and hamstrings for a better range of motion. Make sure to keep your hips level and your back straight. You don’t want to lean forward or backward. Balance on one leg (you can hold onto a wall or bench for assistance) and swing the other leg 15 – 20 times before switching legs.
Leg Swings – Side to Side
This exercise is very similar to the previous one. It helps loosen up the adductor and abductor muscles (aka your inner thighs). Again, make sure your hips stay level and that your posture is straight. Balance on one leg and swing the other one side to side. Try not to twist your pelvis or core while doing this! Swing each leg 15 – 20 times.
Lunges are a great way to activate your glutes and warm up all of your legs’ muscles. You can do a variety of lunges to make sure you get every muscle in your leg.
Begin with front lunges. Take a big step forward, making sure your front knee doesn’t go over your toe. Then, try to get your back leg as close to the ground as possible. Your goal is to get both legs bent in a 90-degree angle. Do five reps on each leg.
Now, do side lunges. Stand with your feet wider than hip-width and bend one leg, making sure your knee doesn’t go past your toes. Keep your other leg straight as you bend to the side of your bent leg. Repeat on each leg five times.
Backward lunges are very similar to forward lunges. Instead of taking a big step forward, take a big step backward! Keep the same perfect form, and repeat five times on each leg.
Lunge with a Twist
Finally, do front or walking lunges while twisting your core. This will activate your upper body, as well! Make sure you turn towards the leg that is facing forward when you perform this move.
In addition to leg swings and lunges, you can do mountain climbers, planks, squats, butt kicks, and high knees to get your body primed and ready to run. You can also walk while doing calf raises to get your ankles and calves ready to go. Just make sure you have proper form in whichever exercise you choose and have spent at least five minutes getting your body warmed up.
Mountain Climber = An Awesome Mobility Warm-up
You Should Warm Up By Starting Running Slowly
After you’ve done your dynamic warm-up, don’t just leap out the front door and start sprinting down the street.
You want to continue your warm-up with 5-10 minutes of relatively easy running.
Allow yourself this ‘easy run’ time in order to get your body limber and promote blood flow to the muscles. Aim for an RPE of around 3 out of 10 (RPE = Rate of Perceived Exertion).
I enjoy a light running warm up for runners as it gets my body primed, allows me to spend some relaxed time focussing on my form, and gets me mentally set for the run ahead.
Only after at least 5 minutes of easy running do I turn on Strava and start to log my run.
While warming up may not seem natural at first, it’s a great habit to get into. If you consistently warm-up before your runs, it will start to feel like a regular part of your routine. It will help you prepare for races too!
When you have a set routine that you are used to, it will calm your mind and nerves before a race. It will also get your body ready so that you’ll be able to run the race you have prepped for! So, do a warm up for runners before your next run.
With consistent practice, you’ll notice a difference in your performance and how you feel.