Once you’re ready to run, it’s tempting to shoot out the door at top speed, or forego a running warmup in the interest of saving time. But heading out of the gates at full throttle without a proper prerun warmup is a recipe for disaster: injury.
If you start out too fast, you run the risk of pulling a muscle, tweaking a tendon, bone, or joint, or getting into a pace that you simply can’t sustain. The result? You end up slowing down and burning out before you’re done with your workout. The worst part is that you’re likely to end your run feeling exhausted, discouraged, and dreading your next workout.
A smart running warmup gives your muscles, bones, and joints a chance to loosen up; it gradually and gently brings up your heart rate, and makes it easier to get into the rhythm you want to sustain so you can run—and finish—feeling exhilarated and energized enough to go longer. A study published in the the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research even backs the benefits of a running warmup: Researchers found that when runners performed a dynamic stretching routine before a treadmill workout, they were better able to sustain a hard effort for longer than those who did’t.
Follow this three-step method to warm up before running.
Walk gently for three to five minutes. Lots of us runners write off walking. But it’s actually the ideal low-intensity activity to ease your body out of sitting mode and into workout mode. The motion of walking takes the muscles, tendons, and joints through a range of motion that’s similar to what it will go through in running, explains exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton, running coach and owner of Running Strong. This not only brings up the temperature of the muscles and the core, but it also enhances the blood flow to all the muscles you’ll need for running and sends your brain the message that it’s time to go. Walking is especially helpful for runners who are coming back after an injury.
Do five to six 100-meter strides. Strides (also called “pickups”) flood the muscles with blood, recruit your fast-twitch muscle fibers, and help your body transition from walking to running mode. Here’s how to do them:
- Jog easy for at least two minutes—preferably more.
- Gradually accelerate over the course of 60 to 100 meters, then gradually decelerate.
- After each stride, walk around and shake out your legs for 90 seconds.
- Then stride back in the opposite direction.
- Strides should not be timed, and the exact distance of each stride is not critical.
Do not confuse “strides” with “overstriding,” warns Hamilton. Overstriding—extending your foot and leg far out in front of your knee—is a common cause of injury. Be sure to keep your steps short and quick as you perform the strides. Keep your feet and legs underneath your torso during each push.
Do Dynamic Stretches
Static stretching, in which you hold a muscle in an elongated, fixed position for 30 seconds or more, is now discouraged prerun, as it’s been linked to injury. But dynamic stretching, in which you utilize controlled leg movements to improve range of motion, loosens up muscles and increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow to help you run more efficiently.
Use this dynamic warmup to get the most out of your run. Jumping Jacks, Forward Jacks, Squat with Walkout, and Walkout with Knees to Elbows.
Try this routine, which targets the major muscles used for running. Start slowly, focusing on form; as the moves get easier, pick up speed. Use small movements for the first few reps, and increase the range of motion as you go.
Skip: Start by skipping for 25 to 50 meters, gradually increasing the height and range of each skip as you go.
Side Step/Shuffle: Step to the side, 10 to 20 meters to the right, then 10 to 20 meters to the left. You can do it walking and gradually progress to a jog. As your muscles start to warm up, you can build the intensity so that you cover as much ground as possible with as few steps as possible.
Weave Step (Grapevine): Step your right foot to the right, then step your left food behind your right foot. Step right foot to the right again, but then step left foot in front of right foot. Keep repeating this for 10 to 20 meters to the right, then reverse the pattern to the left. Keep alternating between right and left. Like the Side Step/Shuffle, you can start by walking, then ramp up the intensity to a jog, trying to move as quickly as possible.
Backward Jog: Start with 50-meter segments, stay light on your toes and use your arms for momentum.
Butt Kick: While standing tall, walk forward as you draw heel to your glute. When this is easy, try it while jogging. Do 10 reps on each side. Too easy? Alternate butt kicks with high knees. Do five butt kicks, then do five high-knee steps. The butt kicks stretch the quads, and the “high knees” stretch the glutes.
Hacky Sack: Lift up your left leg, bending your knee so it points out. Tap the inside of your left foot with your right hand without bending forward. Repeat 10 times on each side. This stimulates the balance you’re going to need when you start running.
Toy Soldier: Keeping your back and knees straight, walk forward, lifting your legs straight out in front and flexing your toes. Advance this by adding a skipping motion. Do 10 reps on each side.