What to Include in a Running Warm Up

By January 21, 2016Challenge 2016


The purpose of the warm up is to warm the muscles, increase circulation and prepare your muscles to be on point to fire. Here’s how to perform a running warm up.

Step 1: Walk before you run.
Start with easy walking or jogging to warm your muscles and increase the blood and lymphatic flow. In my coaching experience, this is the one step many runners miss. It’s the most important since many of us go directly from bed or sitting at work to running without an adequate transition. When you invest in Step 1, it will optimize the transition from rest to running, which can help improve your performance. Walk easy for one minute, then walk briskly (on the edge of running) for one to two minutes before you start to run.

Step 2: Point massage.
If you have any niggling areas that are giving you trouble (like IT bandor calf tightness), do some self-massage with light, short strokes. The aim is to warm up this muscle group so there isn’t a high degree of tension, which can make you more prone to injury. Avoid any deep tissue release in the warmup since you don’t want to irritate the muscles before you head out to run or race. For instance, with the IT band, focus on using short, light circular rubbing up and down the leg. Again, you’re not trying to release the tension in the targeted spot but rather warm it up. If you don’t have any tight spots, skip this step.

Step 3: Be dynamic.
There are two types of stretching: static, where you hold a stretch without moving, and dynamic, where you move through a range of motion. The key for runners is to target the muscle groups used for running. You want to warm up with flexion and extension of the legs, and lateral movements, especially before harder effort runs or races. Warming up the hips, for instance is key because that’s where the hip flexors, psoas, and quads and hamstrings come in together.

Try these dynamic stretches:

  • Hip Circles: Standing with your feet hip width apart with your hands on your hips, rotate your hips in circles in a clockwise and then counterclockwise pattern ten times each direction.
  • Walking Lunges: Step forward with a long stride and drop your back leg towards the ground. Focus on keeping your front knee over your ankle and perform it in a slow and flowing motion.
  • Butt Kicks: Walk forward slowly while kicking your heels in towards your glutes for a total of 20 kicks (10 per leg).
  • Monster Walk: With you torso tall, walk forward while lifting your legs straight in front of you. Do it 10 times on each side.
  • Leg Swings: While holding onto something stable, swing one leg to your side and then back and across your torso. Perform the move 10 times each side.

Step 4: Run easy.
After the dynamic exercises, start running at an easy effort to continue to prepare your body for the upcoming workout. This will gradually increase your circulation to the working muscles, your respiration and allow you to get into the flow.

Keep in mind: Avoid static stretching i.e. holding stretches for a period of time before a run. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the goal of a running warm up is to warm the muscle, increase circulation and prepare the muscles to be on point to fire. Static stretching targets the muscle to relax, and impairs their ability to store energy. That’s not to say static stretching is bad, it’s not. But it doesn’t belong in a runner’s warmup routine.


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