How To Warm Up For A Run
Updated: May 12
Warm up exercises and drills before you run should be a consistent part of your running routine. Warming up correctly lets you run faster and helps prevent any injuries from happening while you run. Without the proper running warm up routine, you could be limiting your body's performance potential and exposing your muscles to unnecessary harm!
In this post, I'm going to walk you through some details of my usual warm up routine before I at practice. To be frank, there are literally hundreds of warm up drills out there and different runners and coaches prioritize different things when it comes to warming up for a track workout or a run. Even so, there are a lot of consistencies in warm ups across all runners, and this post will cover a lot of them!
As always, this is my experience and knowledge that I've personally picked up over many years as an athlete. For more information on this, please read my Disclaimer.
Starting the Warm Up
Starting the warm up might look different across sports and even across running events or individuals. Personally, I like to shake out and move around the parts of my body that feel like they need a little extra TLC that day. What does this usually take the form of?
Rolling: If your hips feel tighter than normal today, grab a foam roller and focus on that spot for a few. Grab a lacrosse ball for your feet- whatever you need!
General mobility movements: rolling your head from side to side to stretch out the neck and shoulders, reach up to the sky and down to toes, etc.
From here, I would do some dynamic stretches (see below for ideas) that help mobilize the body before doing any running.
Only then would I do my warm up jog- which is usually just easy running (however far you do is up to you as a runner!) or ins and outs around the track (jog the curves and then pick it up just slightly slower than a full stride- but keeping form- on the straights).
Continuing on in the warm up after some initial running consists of more dynamic stretches and mobility movements, some rolling out, some drills that reinforce good running mechanics, and strides and other running drills.
Dynamic stretching is one of those running warm up consistencies that I was talking about. Regardless of what shape these movements take in a runner's warm up, there is definitely always some sort of dynamic stretching involved.
Dynamic stretching is characterized by stretches that you only hold for a few seconds at a time, and repeat. This is in contrast to static stretching, where you sit and hold a stretch for a long time. Static stretching elongates and relaxes muscles, so it should be done after exercise.
Dynamic movements on the other hand, warm up the muscles and improve speed and agility. With these stretches, you're activating muscles and improving your joints’ range of motion. I do some dynamic stretching in my cool down too with a quick rope stretching routine.
dynamic stretches for your running warm up
With so many movements out there, the most important thing to do is understand which parts of your body should definitely be given some dynamic attention before you run, and then determine which movements work for you to reach those spots.
While you want your whole body to be ready, the areas I prioritize in my drills are:
Major muscles: hamstring, quads
Leg swings are always included in my warm up regardless of the type of running workout I’m going to be doing. Stabilize yourself with a nearby fence, and alternate swinging your legs and increasing range of motion in your hips. I go both laterally and forward. Here's a clip.
I also always do a series of dynamic stretches that target the glutes, hips and back. It's so crucial to help these areas loosen up and increase their range of motion before running.
Some exercises you can utilize in every warm up that target these areas are:
Seated Figure Four
Quad Hip Flexor
Spider Man (low lunge rotator)
After these, the core of my body feels so much more loose and ready to take the force from running! For more details on these movements, I explain them and more in my post with yoga-inspired movements for back pain.
Speed Drills For A Running Warm Up
Speed drills are more specific movements that I typically reserve for sprinting days. Whichever days are your faster paced days is a great place to add these into your warm up.
No matter what you’re doing though, runners love speed drills because they reinforce good running mechanics and activate muscles that you‘re going to want to be ready to go while you’re running.
These drills are also great for speed days because they activate your fast twist muscles and essentially "wake up" your muscles and joints so that they can move fast and pop off the ground.
A few things to remember for sprint drills:
You get more out of less ground contact. What I mean by this is that with these drills you want to make sure that you're popping off of the ground quickly and not spending a lot of time on the ground.
Put force into the ground. Without being too sciency, running fast is really about the amount of force you can put into the ground, because of the counter action on the other side- force as it comes back up. You focus on putting power down, the laws of nature respond by using that power to propel you.
Use your arms! Opposite arm, opposite leg: just like running. Your arms are just as important to running as your legs because they also help propel you forward. Use your arms in running drills for extra power and to reinforce good arm movements while you run.
Some speed drill favorites that get the body ready to move fast
Pose skipping is a good first drill to do in a collection of speed drills. It reinforces good running form and activates running muscles when done right. To do this drill, you alternate runner's pose on each leg by switching quickly and hitting the pose perfectly on the next leg- balancing upright for 1-2 seconds before switching again.
Down leg is straight, with only a slight bend in the knee so as not to injure the knee area.
Lead leg is bent at a 90 degree angle with toes flexed and raised up directly in front of hip.
Arms are bent at the elbow, one raised high in front and one high in back (opposite arm to leg).
For the actual pose skip movement, you will be skipping forward hitting the runner's pose on alternating legs. To hold your balance you will need to squeeze core and glute muscles.
Straight leg bound circuit which consists of 3 different drills to do for about 30-50m.
Small bound steps, large bound steps, alternating: 3 large then 3 small
A-Skips are a classic running drill great for all running days, not just speed. To do an A-skip, skip forward bringing the lead leg to a full runner's position (90 degree, flexed foot) while keeping the down leg straight as you pop off that toe. Move forward as you alternate legs.
Focus on bringing feet back together at the bottom
Land on your mid-front foot
Use your arms
Bosch Skip is very similar to doing A-Skips, but one leg at a time. I had some technical difficulties, but will update as soon as possible. Subscribe to my YouTube or follow my Pinterest so you don't miss any drill uploads!
The fast leg drill is one of my all time favorite drills to do before running fast because it makes me feel fast and I can isolate speed one leg at a time. For this drill circuit, I typically do three drills: right leg fast, left leg fast, alternating. Clip coming soon.
There are many different speed drills for runners of all different levels. These are some of my favorites that I try to work into almost every speed day! Give some of these a try and see how much faster you can run!
Other Running Warm Up Drills To Try
Like I said at the start of this post, there are hundreds of drills to try out and see what works best for you. Here's a few others that I love:
Iron Cross: Great dynamic mobility movement that opens up your full back and even stretches your glutes. Lay flat on your back and sweep one leg over towards the opposite hand getting as close as you can. Rotate back!
Scorpion: Like an inverted version of iron cross, this time you're on your stomach and your legs alternate crossing over your back.
Glute and hip activations:
Fire Hydrants: On your hands and knees, extend the back leg up using your glutes.
Wall pushes: At an angle, place hands on a wall. Alternate going into runner's pose with each leg- you want to feel your glutes and core being activated and try not to bend at the hips (from top of head to feet should be a straight line)
Hurdle drills: Set up 4-6 hurdles so that they line up with each other touching. Doing a series of hurdle walking drills to both warm up and strengthen the muscles.
Warming Up With Strides
Well friends, if you're not doing strides of any kind in your warm up, let this be the sign that you should start.
I can't imagine what I would even feel like without doing a single stride before any harder running effort. Even mediocre running efforts wouldn't feel as good on my body without a few strides.
Just as almost everything else you'll read in this post, strides reinforce good running form and wake the body up so that the first rep of your actual workout doesn't shock the system completely.
Every warm up I do ends with many strides. For longer, slower workouts, I would typically do a stride (maybe 75m), walk back to the start, and repeat a few times.
For faster workouts I would tack on even more strides after those initial strides. These ones would be in spikes or running flats so that I can go really fast. For these I may take walk back rest or wait up to 3 minutes before doing another one! In general, the more recovery time you give yourself, the higher quality the stride will be.
Make sure you're doing strides!!
If you've been looking for some ways to revamp your running warmup, I hope that there is something in this post that helps you do that! If you're still confused, you can always contact me or find me on Instagram.
I didn't show video examples of all of these drills, which means some of them might remain confusing to you. But, I will update them as much as I can on one of these platforms so that you can check them out!
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