How To Warm Up For A Run
Updated: Jul 3, 2022
Warming Up For Runners
Warm-up exercises and drills before you run should be a consistent part of your running routine.
Why is warming up so important for runners?
Warming up correctly can help you run faster
Helps prevent any injuries from happening while you run
Strengthens running muscles
Reinforces good running form
Learning how to warm up for a run properly is one of the first tips for running beginners that I give.
Basically, without the proper running warm-up routine, you could be limiting your body's performance potential and exposing your muscles to unnecessary harm. So it's important to have a warm up exercises list to pull from to get your body ready for exercise.
Since I get questions about my warm-up routine and training style all the time, in this post I'm going to walk you through some details of my usual warm-up routine before I do a running practice.
Disclaimer: 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. What works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa.
This blog article should not be taken as individualized advice but as general guidelines. If you need a coaching plan, you should hire someone specifically for you. As always, this is my experience and knowledge that I've picked up over many years as an athlete. Read my Disclaimer.
Even so, there are a lot of consistencies in warm-ups across all runners, and this post will cover a lot of them. Let's get into it!
Starting the Warm-Up
Before I get into the nitty-gritty specifics, let's talk about how to start your runner's warm-up.
Starting the warm-up might look different across sports and even across running events or individuals. But in general, it's smart to do a little bit of mobility or dynamic stretches before running.
You can establish a routine of dynamic stretches before running, but you should also allow for a little wiggle room.
For example, I like to shake out and move around the parts of my body that just feel like they need a little extra TLC that day. Some days that's my glutes, other days it's my calves, and so on.
What form does this pre-warm-up usually take?
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, reaching up to the sky and down to toes, etc.
Then from here, I would get into dynamic stretches that are great for runners. (see below for ideas) They're so helpful for mobilizing the body before doing any running and activating the right muscles!
So after some rolling and stretching, then I would get into the bulk of my warm-up. It's just nicer on your body to get some blood flowing first and gently warm up your limbs. Especially when it's first thing in the morning!
Only then do 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).
Dynamic Stretches Before Running
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, I think 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.
Tips for doing leg swings:
Stabilize yourself with a nearby fence and alternate swinging your legs
Increase the range of motion with each swing (start lighter!)
Go both laterally and forward. Here's a clip.
Rise up on your toes (like a calf raise) while you swing the other leg. This activates more muscles.
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 your body will feel so much more loose and ready to take the force from running! If you're trying to learn how to warm up for a run properly, just adding these simple exercises into your routine will have a major effect on how you feel when you run.
For more details on these movements, I explain most of them in my post about yoga-inspired movements for back pain.
Speed Drills For A Running Warm-Up
After stretching and dynamic mobility, you might go do your warm-up jog (or skips/strides if you're not a jogger) and then think that you're ready to run.
But especially on days where you want to go fast (relative to you and the type of runner you are, of course), speed drills should be added in!
Speed drills are more specific movements that are great for sprint days. Whichever days are your faster paced days is a great place to add these into your warm up.
(Ex: if you're a miler—800-1000m pace workouts might be your speed day)
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 counteraction on the other side—force as it comes back up. If you focus on putting the power down, the laws of nature respond by using that power to propel you. Pretty neat!
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.
Warm-Up Exercises List: Speed Drills
Here are some of my speed drill favorites. These are amazing at getting 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.
1. Small bound steps
2. Large bound steps
3. Alternating bound steps: 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:
1. Right leg fast
2. Left leg fast
3. Alternating fast leg
To do the fast leg drill, you essentially do straight leg bounds. But instead of keeping your legs straight the way you would in a bound, every 3rd step your leg circles up (as if running) and back down. Cycle the leg as fast as you can and use that moment to propel you forward through the drill.
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 are 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 to try:
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.
You can end every warm-up with strides. If you're going to spike up or put on different shoes for your workout, you can also add another set of strides once you've put on the new shoes.
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.
Maybe you take a walk back to the start 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. That's up to you, your body, and your favorite way to warm up.
How To Warm Up For A Run
If you've been looking for some ways to revamp your running warm-up, hopefully, there is something in this post that helps you do that!
Your pre-run warm-up is so important and should never be skipped. Honestly, no matter what type of workout you're doing, you should always try to have a good warm-up routine in place.
It's okay if your warm-up changes from day to day based on the type of workout you're doing—or even if it changes over time as you grow as a runner.
And it's definitely okay if it doesn't look the same as the runner next to you. Our bodies are all different and respond to different things.
However, it's important to have the right exercise drills so that you activate your running muscles and strengthen the areas that matter most. What's your favorite warm-up drill for running? Leave a comment below so we can all try it out.
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