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How To Warm Up For Runners: + A Complete Warm Up Routine

We discuss why they benefits of warming up makes it worthwhile!

Back in the day, we were told a warm up for runners was a sequence of contorting static stretches. Gradually, sports science moved on and proved these old routines ineffective.

Runners then ditched the warm-up (if they had ever taken the time to do them at all) and got used to just heading out the door and running.

If you’re like many runners, you most likely don’t include a warm up routine before your workouts. Perhaps you don’t have the time, or think the benefits aren’t worth it.

Just about any running coach will tell you that if you’re skipping your warm up, it turns out you’re missing out on performance benefits,1Stewart, M., Adams, R., Alonso, A., Van Koesveld, B., & Campbell, S. (2007). Warm-up or stretch as preparation for sprint performance? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport10(6), 403–410. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2006.10.001 improved running form, and perhaps even lowering your risk of injury!

In this guide, we will delve into how to warm up for runners, give you warm-up exercises to add to your routine, and discuss why taking the extra time to do so is important.

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Two people jogging.

Why Should You Warm Up Before a Run?

The main reason to warm up before running is to prevent injuries.

About 50% of runners become injured every year in a manner that prevents them from working out. In fact, 90% of runners wind up missing at least one workout because of an injury.

One of the main reasons 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 body, especially your joints, such as your ankles, knees, and hips. You can easily become injured if you are weak, inflexible, or imbalanced.

When you warm up, you significantly reduce your chances of becoming injured.

This is because a warm-up primes your muscles and joints to perform at their full range of motion. A pre-run warm-up will make you more flexible and able to move naturally with each stride.

A quad stretch.

It also means you’ll be much more efficient when you run (improved running economy), letting you run faster and for longer periods or distances.

When you warm up, the goal is to activate the parts of your body that you’ll use the most when you run.

Therefore, you’ll want to focus on activating the lower body muscle groups involved in running, such as your glutes, calves, hamstring, and quads, while also priming your ankles, knees, and hips.

Getting these muscles warmed up also means that your blood vessels will dilate in these areas, so they’ll get plenty of oxygen before you start working them.

A person stretching.

How Long Should I Warm Up Before Running?

The good news is that the dynamic stretching piece of a proper warm up for runners only takes about 5 minutes and will make a big difference in your workout performance,2May 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 3 : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (n.d.). Journals.lww.com. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2008/05000/the_effect_of_warm_up_on_high_intensity especially when following an intense training plan.

If you add light cardio before and after the dynamic stretches, a complete, full warm up for runners can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on your goals and your specific workout for that day.

Warming up for trackwork will take a bit more time than warming up for an easy run, as the trackwork will demand a higher intensity than an easy jog.

But if you only have 5 minutes, warm up for 5 minutes! 5 minutes is better than no warm up at all.

Windmill exercise.

Should I Stretch Before I Run?

Before discussing 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. Static stretches are stretches you hold in the same position between 30-60 seconds, with no movement.

Stretching statically on 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 post-run cool down.

With static stretches out, what’s the alternative? Dynamic stretches.

These stretches involve movement and don’t require holding a position for long periods. Therefore, 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.)

Here, you can check out our top 15 dynamic stretches for runners!

A person on an exercise bike.

How To Warm Up For Runners

There are a lot of great options for how to warm up before your run!

If you’re at a gym or have a bike or elliptical at home, you can hop on for 5 – 10 minutes and slowly get your heart rate up. Start with a slow, easy effort and very gradually build your intensity.

If you don’t have any equipment, an easy jog or jogging in place will also do. You want to prime your muscles for dynamic stretches by warming them up with light cardio.

Here are some examples of pre run stretches that you can perform after your 5-10 minutes of light cardio:

#1: Leg Swings – Front to Back

This stretch is excellent for opening up your hip flexors 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.

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Balance on one leg (you can hold onto a wall or bench for assistance) and swing the other leg 15 – 20 times front to back and then switch legs.

#2: Leg Swings – Side to Side

This exercise is very similar to the previous one. It helps loosen the adductor and abductor muscles (aka your inner thighs).

Again, ensure your hips stay level, and you are standing tall with good posture.

Balance on one leg and swing the other from side to side, laterally, in front of you. Try not to twist your pelvis or core while doing this! Swing each leg 15 – 20 times.

Lunges

Lunges are a great way to activate your glutes and warm up your leg muscles. You can do a variety of lunges to make sure you get every muscle in your leg.

#3: Forward Lunge

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 at a 90-degree angle. Do five reps on each leg.

#4: Side Lunge

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.

#5: Reverse Lunge

Reverse 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.

#6: 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, squats, butt kicks, and high knees to get your body primed and ready to run.

You can also walk on your tip toes or while doing calf raises to get your ankles and calves ready.

No matter which dynamic stretches you choose, ensure you have proper form and good posture while performing them. This five minute warm-up will make a substantial difference when you start your workout. You’ll feel like a completely different runner!

A lunge.

You Should Warm Up By Starting Running Slowly

After your dynamic warm-up, don’t just leap out the front door and sprint down the street.

You want to continue your warm-up with 5-10 minutes of relatively easy running.

Allow yourself this ‘easy run’ time to get your body limber and promote muscle blood flow. 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 focusing 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.


A person at a track.

While warming up may not seem natural at first, it’s a great habit to get into. If you consistently warm up before every run, it will start to feel like a regular part of your routine.

Warming up before a race such as a half marathon or a 5k is just as important, if not more important, than when training!

Not only will you be able to begin the race at your race pace hard effort, but this routine can help calm your mind and nerves before the start.

So, have we convinced you to 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 during your training.

Now that we have the warm up squared away, what about the cool down? Check out our running cool down guide, here:

References

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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