Yes, you need to warm-up before running. Yes, it should be something more than jogging lightly (though that’s a fine final warm-up). When you think about what joints are moving during running, it’s actually a full body exercise: your arms are swinging, your legs are pumping, landing and pushing off the ground, and your core should be working to keep your trunk steady despite the tug of all four of your limbs. So your running warmups should include all of these areas of the body.
While some leg stretches and some light jogging is good, you’re not doing your body justice for an effective (and pain-free) run. Here are six running warmups you can perform within 10 minutes to hit the ground running better:
This is a great one for people with tight hip flexors (like most runners) and calves. It’s even more imperative for runners who sit at work all day. The key is to keep the spine tall (don’t lean back or forward), both legs at 90 degree angles to begin. You should feel a stretch in the front of the back leg. “Lock in” the stretch by engaging your abs and glutes (butt muscles). Then gradually drive your torso forward as a single unit so you’ll see your front knee start to head over the foot. The key is to only go as far forward as you can keep your heel on the ground. You should feel a stretch in the calf of that front leg.
Amount: Bring the torso forward on one breath. Hold the stretch for one breath. Then return to the starting position on one breath by driving yourself backward using the glute (butt muscle) of the front leg. Repeat 5 to 8 times on each leg.
When done properly, this warmup will turn on your glutes in a hurry, similar to a bridge. However, this movement is a little more functional for running. But if you can’t get proper engagement with this, perform bridges instead for glute engagement.
While this video shows the woman doing the march against the wall for support, you can also do it standing normally. The key is NOT how high the marching leg can go, but rather how well you can root the standing leg down into the ground while you lift the other leg. Only raise the leg as high as you can stabilize with the down leg. For the standing leg, keep the knee soft and focus on using your glutes to stabilize. Stay tall through the spine, keep your abs on. Don’t let your upper body flex/bend. Also, you shouldn’t feel a significant effort in the hip flexors in the raising leg. If you do, then don’t lift as high and find the glute of the standing leg. Yes, I’m a broken record – glutes.
You can adjust difficulty based on the thickness of the mini band you have around your midfoot.
Amount: Perform one or two sets of 6 to 8 marches per side. Try alternating legs, though you can do the all reps one side at a time as well.
This drill will wake up your hip abductors (muscles on the rear/side of the hip) which will help stabilize your hip and knee while running. The key considerations when performing the drill: try to always maintain some distance between your feet. Use the trailing leg to push you in the direction you want to go rather than pulling through the front leg. The movement does not have to be big – small steps are very effective if you maintain that distance between the feet. Don’t let the front foot turn out/externally rotate. Keep the torso steady.
The thicker the band, or the lower you move the band, the harder it will be: either above the knee, at the ankles, or around the midfoot (hardest).
Amount: Going for 8 to 10 repetitions per side for one to two sets should get those hip abductors working.
4. Shoulder Mobilizations:
If you’re sitting all day in a hunched position, your shoulders will get tight. Trying to run with tight shoulders is like driving uphill in a 4 cylinder car with shoddy brakes – you’ll probably get there but it won’t look pretty. Having mobile shoulders will help in two ways. They provide a natural counterbalance to your legs to minimize the stress on your core and low back. Also, they are a natural driver of the legs. The faster your arms go, the faster your legs will go. Try it out next time you’re on the treadmill.
Amount: Spend 30 to 60 seconds rolling out tight areas and trigger points around your shoulder blade and chest on each site. Note if one side feels tighter or more uncomfortable than the other side.
Have you ever seen someone wobble all over the place when running? Their upper body either twists side-to-side or bobs up-and-down excessively? Inactive core. Plank saws will tackle multiple warmups at once: engage the core, stabilize your newly released shoulders (remember this: mobility then stability) and perform a little extra stretching through your posterior chain (calves and hamstrings). In the video, the guy is on discs so his legs glide when he moves forward and back. I want you to do them without gliders. You won’t move as far, but you will feel a nice stretch in those calves and hamstrings when you go back. Again, don’t expect to move back very far, especially if you have tight calves.
The key to a good plank saw is to stay steady through the torso and move slow and steady. That goes double for those of you with hypermobile (double jointed) knees – if you drive back too fast you’ll place unnecessary stress on the knees. For the rest of us, if you shift too far back your hips will hike up. If you go too far forward you’ll drop down and your shoulders may get pissed off. Less is more – when you stay just right it’ll feel like the muscles underneath the armpits and your abs are engaged. With a little help from the quads.
If being in a full plank position is too much, you could do it elevated on a bench or stair. Or in a modified position on the knees, though you will lose the hamstring/calves stretch if you’re on your knees.
Amount: Try performing a plank saw for 8 to 12 repetitions for one to two sets.
A great way to integrate all of the parts together, especially if you move your arms in a sprinting motion with each lunge: the forward arm is opposite to the forward leg. If you don’t know what I mean, start jogging – notice which arm goes forward compared to the leg. You can do either the reverse or forward lunge depending what you prefer. Walking lunges work great as well.
When you lunge, keep your torso steady with your core and move your arms by driving through your shoulder blades and controlling with the muscles underneath the armpits. You should have a slight forward lean with the lunge (spine is still in a straight line, just at a slight angle), so you can load the front glute to push up back up.
Amount: One to two sets of 6 to 10 lunges are fine. Key is to turn on, not tire out.
Pay it Forward with Feedback: I hope you find these exercises useful. Let me know which one(s) you like. Also, if you have other exercises you like to do before a run, please share them by commenting below!