After spending the day confined in the office, it’s alluring to bypass a monotonous warm-up, push through a few lackluster stretches, and head straight into your outdoor jog or treadmill sprints that reinvigorate you.
However, regardless of how strongly you desire to run, you should not neglect your running warm-up routine, asserts Percell Dugger, a USATF-certified running coach and NIKE running coach. Dugger explains, “Often, I observe many runners making the mistake of treating their warm-up like an unwilling relationship – ‘I’ll do it whenever I get around to it,’ or ‘I won’t do it at all.’ But in reality, a good warm-up can optimize your performance during your workout and reduce the risk of injury.”
To assist you in creating a running warm-up that is so beneficial that you wouldn’t even consider skipping it, Dugger shares the essential types of movements to include in your pre-run routine, along with visual demonstrations of his preferred exercises. And if you haven’t received the message yet, discover more about why it is crucial to incorporate a running warm-up in the first place.
The Importance of a Running Warm-Up
You can envision a running warm-up as the appetizer preceding the main course – it prepares your body for activity so that you can better tackle the jog, run, or sprints that lie ahead, explains Dugger. If you go from resting on the couch to suddenly embarking on a three-mile run without any transition period in between, there is a higher likelihood of sustaining an injury. “By priming your body for movement with a series of exercises that are not as intense as the actual workout but are setting you up for success, you want to reduce or eliminate that risk of injury,” he adds.
To effectively prepare your body, your running warm-up should generally concentrate on movements that increase tissue temperature and blood flow; promote mobility in the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders; and relieve tightness in areas such as the hamstrings, calves, and quads, shares Dugger. Doing so will not only help minimize the chances of injury but also ensure that you begin your workout on a positive note. Dugger explains, “[A warm-up] enables you to commence your workout in an optimal state of performance, leaving you feeling confident about your goals. It is challenging to succeed if you don’t have confidence in your current state. Psychologically, entering a space with a sense of preparedness and confidence is just as significant as physical readiness and confidence.” Additionally, a small study conducted in 2013 found that individuals who perform a warm-up before exercising enjoy and feel more motivated about their workout compared to those who skip warm-ups.
Which Varieties of Movements to Incorporate In a Pre-run Warm-Up
When DIY-ing your own pre-run warm-up, make sure you include these three varieties of movements in your routine, says Dugger.
Whether you’re engaging in 200-meter sprints or a marathon, Dugger recommends integrating static exercises into your pre-run warm-up. ICYDK, static exercises involve remaining motionless so there’s no elongation or contraction of the muscle. They allow you to specifically target and prepare one specific joint or muscle tissue for your run, says Dugger. “In the case of athletes, you might need a very specific area of your body trained or stimulated by the warm-up because it’s been a recurring area of discomfort for you,” he explains. “Static exercises are truly an excellent way to be incredibly intentional and specific about a body part.” For instance, Dugger has recently been performing 30-second to 1-minute wall sits with his calves raised to strengthen and prepare his injured calves ahead of his workouts, he says.
Even if you’re not presently dealing with pain or discomfort, you can still benefit from integrating static movements into your pre-run warm-up. “A lot of runners and athletes deal with weak hips, weak glutes, or weak hamstrings, and it’s crucial to really have a sturdy posterior chain because that’s essentially what propels your body to move forward and backward,” he explains. Single-leg glute bridge holds and single-leg Romanian deadlift holds utilize and strengthen all of those muscles, so performing them ahead of your run can help enhance your performance, he says.
Together with static movements, your pre-run warm-up should incorporate jumping exercises — but not the traditional burpees and box jumps, says Dugger. “Jumping exercises are about reducing ground contact time,” he explains. “So for a runner, jumping exercises include A skips, B skips, ankle hops, pogo jumps, C skips, and karaokes. These actions enhance the elasticity of your ankle and foot, as well as strengthen and prepare your calves, knees, and hips. [They give you the] elasticity that you need to be more responsive, reduce ground contact time, and be an excellent runner.”
However, the exercises you should focus on depend on the type of run you’ll be undertaking. If you’re a sprinter, for example, you might spend more time running strides, practicing propelling your arms, and working through drills that help loosen up the shoulders, says Dugger. “Someone who’s a sprinter, when they’re only running for less than 10 seconds, needs all of their body — their arms, knees, and legs — to propel,” he explains
If I happen to be a long-distance runner, it is likely that I will not allocate significant amount of time propelling my arms. I have the potential to reduce a small amount of time from my marathon duration in this manner, although it will not determine my victory or defeat in a marathon based on whether my arms are vigorously moving or not.
At last, a successful running warm-up should train all three planes of movement: sagittal (forward and backward), coronal (side to side), and transverse (twisting), states Dugger. “Moving [this way] really allows you to prepare all of your distinct joints, as well as tissue, in all of the planes of movement that might be included in your workout,” he explains. Not to mention, enhancing your ability to move in all three planes can also decrease the risk of injury, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. That’s why Dugger suggests incorporating forward, reverse, and lateral lunges, as well as a variety of stretches, into your running warm-up routine. “Anything that’s going to get your tissue warmer and looser is going to be beneficial,” he adds.
6 Running Warm-Up Activities to Perform Prior to Your Workout
Not certain where to begin with your own running warm-up? Give these movements a try, suggested and demonstrated by Dugger. They will help prepare your joints, loosen your tissue, and increase your heart rate so that you can confidently tackle your run.
How it operates: Complete 1 to 3 sets of the following activities for the suggested number of repetitions.
What you’ll require: no equipment needed
This activity targets your ankles, knees, and hips, elevates your heart rate, and challenges your coordination and reaction time, says Dugger.
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides and palms facing inward. Raise right knee so that it aligns with hips, right foot flat and facing downward. Bring left hand up in front of the chest, elbow bent and tucked at the side.
B. Swiftly raise the left knee up to the hips and lift the right hand up to the chest while lowering the right foot back down to the floor and moving the right hand down to the hips. Take a small hop on the right foot. That constitutes one repetition.
Perform 30 repetitions, alternating sides.
Include this movement in your running warm-up, and it will loosen the tissue in your calves, hamstrings, shoulders, and back, says Dugger.
A. Remain in a position with your feet separated at a distance equal to the width of your hips. Keep your arms at your sides and your palms facing your body.
B. Extend your right leg forward, placing your heel on the ground and pointing your toes towards your body. Bend at the hips to lower your chest and arms to the floor. Then, sweep both arms in front of your right calf. Continue this motion by sweeping your arms all the way up to the ceiling while standing up from the hip hinge.
C. Once you are standing, lower your arms back to your sides. Step your right foot back to meet your left foot and repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
Complete 10 repetitions, alternating sides.
This movement will activate your buttocks, abductors, and core muscles, states Dugger. Although the exercise does not require weights, you will definitely feel the sensation of your muscles working.
A. Lie on your right side on the floor with your legs bent at a 45-degree angle. Stack your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Allow your right forearm to rest on the floor and place your left hand on your hip. This is your starting position.
B. Keep your feet together and lift your hips off the floor, pressing them forward. Reverse the movement by pushing your hips back and returning them to the floor. This completes one repetition. Do 10 repetitions.
C. While keeping your hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, bring your left knee up towards your chest. Then, reverse the movement and bring your left foot back to meet the right. This completes one repetition. Do 10 repetitions.
D. With your hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, drive your left foot back behind your body and fully extend your leg. Then, reverse the movement and bring your left foot back to meet the right. This completes one repetition. Do 10 repetitions.
E. With your hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, lift your left knee upwards towards the ceiling. Then, reverse the movement and bring your left foot back to meet the right. Do 10 repetitions.
Switch sides and repeat the circuit.
Forward Lunge Twist and Reverse Lunge Reach
This running warm-up exercise targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks, and also prepares your hip flexors and back for your upcoming cardio workout.
A. Stand with your feet separated at a distance equal to the width of your hips, and place your hands on your hips.
B. While keeping your core engaged, your chest upright, and your shoulders aligned with your hips, take a large step forward with your left foot. Lower down until your left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.
C. While holding the lunge position, bring your hands to the sides of your head, with your elbows in line with your shoulders, and twist your torso to the left. Reverse the movement to bring your torso back to the center.
Lower hands down to the hips.
D. Push through the center of the left foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a big step forward with the right foot to perform the next repetition.
Complete 10 repetitions, alternating sides.
E. From the position of the forward lunge, push through the middle of the right foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a large step backward with the right foot and lower down until the left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.
F. Remove hands from the hips and extend arms over the head and behind the body, reaching for the wall behind. Reverse the movement and bring the hands back to the hips.
G. Push through the middle of the foot and heel of the left foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a large step backward with the left foot to perform the next repetition.
Complete 10 repetitions, alternating sides.
Alternating Sideways Lunge
“This is a fantastic motion to prepare the hamstrings and glutes in the frequently disregarded frontal plane,” says Dugger.
A. Stand with feet together, hands clasped in front of the chest.
B. Take a large step out to the right and instantly sink hips back and bend the right knee to lower into a lunge. At the same time, extend arms out in front of the chest. Keep the left leg straight but not locked, with both feet pointing forward.
C. Push through the right foot to straighten the right leg, step the right foot next to the left, and return to the starting position.
Complete 10 to 14 repetitions, alternating sides.
Standing Leg Swings
Practice this jogging warm-up movement, and you’ll get your hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors loose and prepared for your run, says Dugger.
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides, with the right side of the body about two feet away from a wall.
B. Place the right hand on the wall, extend the left arm out to the side at shoulder height, and shift your weight into the left foot. This is the starting position.
C. Kick the right foot behind the body, then swiftly swing it up in front of the body as high as possible, simultaneously bringing the left hand in front of the body to touch the toes.
D. Lower the right foot down to the floor and extend the left arm back out to the side to return to the starting position. That’s one repetition.
Complete 10 repetitions. Switch sides; repeat.