How to Warm Up for a Run

How to Warm Up for a Run
How to Warm Up for a Run

The first mile of every run doesn’t have to suck. In fact, it shouldn’t.

That’s why world-class runners and coaches recommend warming up both your body and brain before you hit the pavement or trail. The goal is “to perk you up before you take your first step on the run, ” says Jon Marcus, elite coach and director of High Performance West.

A good warmup primes your central nervous system, soft tissues, and internal organs for activity. By increasing your heart rate and supporting blood flow, the warmup makes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the physiological systems working hardest more efficient. What’s more, studies have shown that dynamic warmup movements can help improve performance and may prevent injuries.

To get the most out of your warmup, tailor it specifically to whatever lies in front of you—the conditions, the run you’re about to do, and your upcoming race. You’ll also want to practice your pre-run routine throughout your training so that, come race day, it’s a natural part of your process, says Lauren Fleshman, elite coach and former pro runner. “When done regularly, it helps calm the mind through familiarity. Prerace nerves are lessened when you have a simple checklist of items to take care of,” she says. “This is why my hard workout days have the same warmup as my races. It makes race day feel more familiar.”

Tacking on a warmup can take as little as a few minutes. Even when you’re strapped for time, going through a quick list of specific motions will help prime you physically and mentally. Here are three warmup options of varying length. Experiment with distance, duration, and a range of movements to see what works best for you, your training, and upcoming goal races.

If You Have 1 to 3 Minutes

If you’re time-crunched, try this routine inspired by Lauren Fleshman’s Oiselle Little Wing elite group warmup. Complete five to ten reps of each movement.

Knee to Chest: Stand straight, bring your right knee to your chest while keeping your left leg straight, and rise up on your left tiptoes as you clasp your hands in front of your right knee. Take a step forward and alternate legs, hugging your left knee to your chest while rising up on your right toes. Keep your core engaged and strong.

Heel to Butt: Stand straight, take a step forward, and bring your right foot to your right glute. Alternate with each step. Remember to keep your core strong and back straight.

Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders backward several times, then forward.

Full Arm Circles: Keeping your arms straight and out to the side, circle your arms forward and then backward.

Washing Machine: Stand straight and twist your upper body from side to side. Most of the rotation should come from your hips.

Around the World: Stand straight and clasp your hands with your fingers pointed. Without bending your knees, raise your hands above your head and use your pointed fingers to draw a circle in the air, reaching up and around toward the ground, and then close the circle as you rotate back to the top, standing straight up.

Hip Rotation: Standing straight up, make exaggerated hula-hooping-style circles with your hips, rotating in one direction, then the other.

Knee Circles: In a slight crouch with your feet and ankles touching, place your hands on your knees. Bend your knees and make little circles with them, rotating in one direction five to ten times, and then switch.

Ankle Circles: Pointing your toe into the ground, roll your ankle in circles in one direction, then switch directions. Repeat with the other foot.

If You Have 5 Minutes

One of the most popular go-tos for dynamic warmups is a matrix based on work by Dr. Gary Gay and popularized by elite coach Jay Johnson’s matrix. It takes your body through all three planes of motion and leg swings. Complete five reps of each exercise on each leg.

Forward Lunge: Take a large step forward with one leg, bending at the knee until your front thigh is almost parallel to the ground and your back knee is nearly at a 90-degree angle. Don’t let your front knee fall in front of your toe. Step back to standing. Alternate sides.

Front Lunge with Twist: Repeat the motion above, but add an upper-body twist toward the front leg. Step back to standing, then alternate sides.

Lateral Lunge: Start standing straight, step one leg to the side, bending into that knee and keeping the other leg straight. Face your chest forward and sit down and back over the bent leg. Switch sides.

Back and to the Side Lunge: From a standing position, raise one foot and step it behind you at a 45-degree angle. Sink into that knee and keep your posture tall. Alternate sides.

Backward Lunge: From a standing position, kick one foot up to your glutes. Step backward into a reverse lunge, then return to standing tall. Alternate sides.

Leg Swings: Stand near a wall, car, or fence and hold on lightly for balance. Swing each leg front and back (with feet parallel to the wall, car, or fence) and side to side (with feet pointing toward or perpendicular to the wall).

If You Have 10 or More Minutes

For a thorough dynamic warmup, practice Lauren Fleshman’s Little Wing warmup, ideal for tougher workouts and race days when your body needs a little more before it can work at high intensity. It incorporates many of the moves from shorter routines and adds a few more. You’ll need 30 meters of grass, sidewalk, or any walkable surface. Complete eight to ten reps of each exercise.

Dynamic Stretches

Knee to Chest: Stand straight, bring your right knee to your chest while keeping your left leg straight, and rise up on your left tiptoes as you clasp your hands in front of your right knee. Take a step forward and alternate legs, hugging your left knee to your chest while rising up on your right toes. Keep your core engaged and strong.

Heel to Butt: Stand straight, take a step forward, and bring your right foot to your right glute. Alternate with each step. Remember to keep your core strong and back straight.

Forward Lunge: Take a large step forward with one leg, bending at the knee until your front thigh is almost parallel to the ground and your back knee is nearly at a 90-degree angle. Don’t let your front knee fall in front of your toe. Step back to standing. Alternate sides.

Lateral Lunge: Start standing straight, step one leg to the side, bending into that knee and keeping the other leg straight. Face your chest forward and sit down and back over the bent leg. Switch sides.

Backward Lunge: From a standing position, kick one foot up to your glutes. Step backward into a reverse lunge, then return to standing tall. Alternate sides.

Bear Crawl: With feet flat, bring your hands to the ground and walk them away from your feet, creating an upside-down V with your body. Walk forward with hands and feet, striking the ground with your heels first.

Mountain Climbers: These are more like an army crawl than traditional mountain climbers. Get on all fours. Move your right arm forward, place your hand on the ground, and then step your right foot out to meet the hand. Complete the same motions on the left side.

Skipping

Forward Skip: Generating power from your glutes and keeping your core engaged, jump forward, bringing one knee up at a 90-degree angle alongside the opposite arm. Continue as you alternate which leg you bring up.

Side Skip: Skip sideways in one direction, then the other.

Karaoke Skip: Drive one knee up and over the opposite leg as you side skip/grapevine in one direction. Return facing the same way, leading with the alternate knee.

Backward Skip: Focus on driving your foot back as you skip backward.

Backward Running: Mimic your backward skipping, but run this time.

Rotational Mobility

Neck Rotation: Roll your neck one direction eight to ten times, then switch direction.

Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders backward several times, then forward.

Full Arm Circles: Keeping your arms straight and out to the side, circle your arms forward and then backward.

Washing Machine: Stand straight and twist your upper body from side to side. Most of the rotation should come from your hips.

Around the World: Stand straight and clasp your hands with your fingers pointed. Without bending your knees, raise your hands above your head and use your pointed fingers to draw a circle in the air, reaching up and around toward the ground, and then close the circle as you rotate back to the top, standing straight up.

Hip Rotation: Standing straight up, make exaggerated hula-hooping-style circles with your hips, rotating in one direction, then the other.

Knee Circles: In a slight crouch with your feet and ankles touching, place your hands on your knees. Bend your knees and make little circles with them, rotating in one direction five to ten times, then switch.

Ankle Circles: Pointing your toe into the ground, roll your ankle in circles in one direction, then switch directions. Repeat with the other foot.

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