As a competitive decathlete, I always do a thorough warm-up before running. If you plan on heading out for a long run, and especially if you have a sprint session scheduled, your warm-up could be the difference between a successful workout and a setback to your fitness goals. Sure, you can absolutely take off on your run without warming up, but you might be setting yourself up for injury or impede your performance.
I created this running warm-up routine for you, comprised of my favorite 5 exercises that target key muscles for strength, stability, and power. This warm-up routine may help you maximize running performance while minimizing injury risk and also fatigue so you save your energy for your workout.
Before we dive into the routine, let’s determine how long you should warm-up before you run.
How long it takes your body to warm-up for a run is highly individualistic, and for some people skipping and jogging for 5 minutes followed by light plyometrics could be enough to sprint efficiently without injury. On the other hand, it’s very common for track and field athletes such as sprinters, jumpers and throwers to warm up for 45-60 minutes before their training session. Even distance runners will run several miles, performing dozens of drills and accelerations (short bursts of sprinting 30-80 meters) before their coach has them nail down some intervals and perform the actual bulk of their training.
The average person probably doesn’t have 45-60 minutes to warm-up. The good news is you can get a good warm-up in 5-15 minutes, depending on the type of workout you’re doing. Here’s the truth about running – the longer you run, the slower your speed will be. More specifically, the pace at which you’d run a marathon is slower than the pace you’d sprint 100 meters.
In preparation for longer runs, you’ll need a shorter warm-up because the demands of running at an 8-mile pace are much less than the demands of sprinting. Sprinting sessions will require a longer and more thorough warm-up to get you totally prepared for the high forces and velocities at which your body will be working.
The benefits of warming up include:
1. Increasing your body temperature (inducing sweat) and activating your muscles.
2. Focusing your mind on the workout ahead. One great way to do this is by practicing visualization, which is a great way to increase your focus and improve your workout performance.
3. Specific exercises that address your personal strengths and weaknesses. For example, you could do a few sets of single-leg bridges to activate your glutes and stabilize your hips before your run.
In this warm-up, you’ll start with planks and glute bridges to target hip and core stability. Then you’ll focus on dynamic stability and hip drive with reverse lunges. You’ll finish with plyometric exercises like jumping jacks and jump rope to elevate your heart rate and prepare your body for distance and speed.
A plank march is a great exercise for runners because it builds core and hip stability in a single-leg position, while also improving posture.
Throughout this exercise, your goal is to stay in a straight line from head to heels. Start in a high plank position, with your arms fully extended and hands directly under your shoulders. Keeping your hips square, take one foot off the ground, bending your knee in towards your chest. Don’t round your back here. Your spine should stay in the same position from start to finish. Then step the foot back and repeat on the other side.
Aim to hold your plank march for 30-45 seconds.
The glute bridge is a key exercise for runners because it targets glute activation while opening the hip flexors. The single-leg variation of this exercise has the added benefit of building hip stability and greater glute strength.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Arms extend on the ground by your sides. Keeping your knees inline, extend your left leg straight. Strongly drive off of your right foot, lifting your hips off of the ground and squeezing your right glute. The goal is to maintain square hips throughout the entire exercise.
Do 10-15 reps on one leg, then repeat on the other.
When running, you’re transferring your weight from one leg to the other. This action requires strength and stability, especially in your hips. The reverse lunge-to-balance hones in on standing single-leg hip stability and glute activation.
Stand tall with your feet together. Then step one leg back, bending that knee down to hover 1-2 inches above the ground. Pressing off of the front foot, stand tall on the front leg bringing the back knee up to 90 degrees. Immediately step the same leg back into the lunge position and repeat the exercise.
Complete 12 reps on one leg, then repeat on the other side.
Now we’re going to focus on more dynamic movements that will elevate your heart rate and get your whole body moving.
In the jumping jack, feet start together with your hands by your sides. Jump both feet out to the sides landing lightly on the balls of your feet while you raise your arms overhead. Then jump both feet back together as you bring your arms back down by your sides. Find a rhythm so you’re continuously jumping your feet out and in while you raise your arms up and down.
Do 30 jumping jacks, practicing being light on your feet throughout the exercise.
Jumping rope works to elevate your heart rate, build coordination between your upper and lower body, and increase the strength and stability of your feet and ankles. If you don’t have a jump rope, you can do the “invisible jump rope” exercise, practicing the same movement without a rope.
Jump rope for 30-60 seconds, and you’ll be ready to take off on your run.
Training is about more than just “going through the motions” of your workout. If you want to perform at a higher level, you have to focus on movement quality instead of just movement quantity. Taking the time to warm-up before any training session can help decrease your risk of injury and enable you to perform better. But warming up can also do more than just activate your muscles. It can be a ritual that helps you transition your mind out of your workday and into the gym so you’re in the right headspace to work your body hard.
Try out these exercises before your next running workout and let me know how it goes in the comments below!