How To Warm-Up For A Run

Running in any form is a serious undertaking for the body.  Each step sends forces through your ankles, knees, hips, and spine that equate to roughly 3x your body weight (1). Due to the high levels of forces it is important that you properly warm-up before you go for a run.

Warm-ups should be considered active, not passive. They should include movements that prime the nervous system and promote active mobility. In general, the intensity should increase as the warm-up progresses, and take roughly 10 minutes.

Following the warm-up, ease into your run with a light jog or a 5-10 minute walk.  This will help further prime the muscles used while running.


MOBILITY

There’s many ways to carve a turkey, just as there’s many ways to gain mobility in a joint. The major-key is having a reason for each movement. Below are some selected mobility drills for ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility.

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HOW MANY: Do
2 sets of 10 repetitions for each movement.
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Ankle Mobility:

  • Starting PositionStand with toes 6” from a wall. Foot pointed straight ahead.
  • Movement: Try and get your knee as close to the wall as possible without lifting your heel. 

Hip Mobility:

  • Starting PositionOn the hands and feet in the quadruped position.
  • Movement: Example - Left Hip
    • Bring left leg to outside of left hand
    • Rock the body 5x front/back, and then 5x left/right
    • Switch legs

Thoracic Spine Mobility:

  • Starting PositionIn side lying with your top leg crossed over the body and rested on a foam roller (leg height should be at waist height). 
  • Movement: Start with your one hand on top of the other.  Rotate your shoulder towards the ground.  Make sure your focus is on rotating from the shoulder, not the arm. 
  • Tip: Don’t forget to breathe! Inhale when arms come together, exhale while arms are spreading apart and thoracic spine is rotating.

Leg Swings:

  • Starting Position: 
    • Side-side swings: Facing a wall/fence with enough room between you and the wall to swing your legs.
    • Front-back swings: If swinging left leg, stand so the wall/fence is to your left.
  • Movement: side-side and front-back 
    • Side-side swings: Drive your leg towards the mid-line of the body, let the elastic energy at the end help you drive your leg back out.  Repeat in a dynamic fashion.
    • Front-back swings: Drive your leg backwards, let the elastic energy at the back help you drive your leg forward.  Repeat in a dynamic fashion.
  • Tip: This movement uses momentum to open up the hip, as well as mobilize the ankles.  Work within your given range, don’t compensate, and don’t overdo it.

Running Drills

Your neuromuscular system plays a huge role in running. The nervous and musculoskeletal systems work together to create stability, mobility, elasticity, and regulatory roles. “Priming” this system prior to your workout helps get blood flow to the muscles and ramps up the neural drive.

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HOW MANY:
2 sets
DISTANCE: about 50 feet, or half a basketball court distance
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Walking Lunge:

  • Alternating lead legs, with twist over lunging leg
  • Knee shouldn't lurch over the foot, lead heel should stay on ground
  • Backpedal back to start 

Horizontal Skips:

  • Like regular skips, except you're really trying to cover a large amount of horizontal distance with each skip
  • TIP: Land softly, be cautious on uneven terrain
  • Backpedal back to start 

Karaoke:

  • Instructions: Direction going to the RIGHT >>
    • Cross left leg in front of the right leg
    • Step open with the right foot (to start position)
    • Cross left leg behind the right leg
    • Step open with the right foot (to start position)
    • Repeat (in front, open, behind, open > in front, open, behind, open, etc.)
  • Back to StartFacing the same direction! The opposite leg will be crossing over/behind on the way back
PSPT Running Warm-up (1).png

Wait - what about stretching?

In general, holding a static stretch increases flexibility in both the short term and long term, however several recent reviews have agreed that static stretching for greater then 45 seconds immediately before performance either; 1) negatively influences maximal strength, power, muscular explosive performance (e.g. jumping or sprinting), balance and agility, or 2) has no effect on performance.

Shorter duration static stretches are also hard to justify immediately before participation given the potential for decreased performance and lack of clear benefits(2). Stretching certainly has its place, however it should be purposeful. To quote our blog on stretching, “Remember, the why in what you do is everything.  Random assortments of mobility drills, with random time periods because Joe Schmoe told you to do so is not good enough.”

Wrap-up

Give the above warm-up routine a shot before your next running workout. It focuses on mobility deficits commonly seen with runners, and ramps up in intensity leaving you feeling fit and ready to roll.


References:

  1. Nilsson, J., and A. Thorstensson. “Ground Reaction Forces at Different Speeds of Human Walking and Running.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, vol. 136, no. 2, 1989, pp. 217–227., doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x.
  2. O'Sullivan, Kieran, et al. “Injury Prevention and Management Among Athletic Populations To Stretch Or Not To Stretch?” Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal, pp. 624–628.