As runners, we’re eager to run. So it’s common to feel like the last thing you have time—or patience—for is a warmup. Besides, the first mile is a junk mile anyway, so why spend extra time stretching when the road or trail is beckoning?
'For the same reason that warming up your car is crucial,' says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., and owner of CORE in Boston. 'You wouldn’t start your car in sub-freezing temperature, rev it up to 70 mph, and expect it to perform well. A warmup equals better joint lubrication, blood flow, and nervous system activation.'
The physical benefits of warming up are many, but the warmup isn’t just a time to get your body ready to go; it’s also the time to tap into your mind-body connection and get into the right mindset for the miles ahead.
'With a proper warmup, you decrease your likelihood for injury and also give yourself the adequate time to prepare mentally for the load you’re about to endure,' says Corinne Fitzgerald, NSCA-CPT, head coach of Mile High Run Club in New York City. 'After all, a workout is always part physical, part mental.'
We all kind of already know it’s important to warm up, and yet we are notorious for neglecting to do so. One of the excuses—er, reasons is practicality: When you’re in a parking lot, a race corral, or at a trailhead, you can’t exactly roll out a yoga mat and start stretching.
The other limiting factor that often comes up is time, or rather, lack thereof. 'Most runners are in a rush,' says Fitzgerald. 'They allow only a specific amount of time for their miles, but they forget that the warmup and cooldown should be added into the equation when carving out time in your schedule.' She suggests considering your warmup as part of your workout, not an unnecessary add-on.
While the perfect warmup can vary per person and workout, five minutes of performing basic moves is a low investment that reaps big rewards like offsetting potential injuries. This warmup is a combination of do-anywhere dynamic stretches that will get your body ready to run. You can do them all standing so it doesn’t matter where you are. All you need is five minutes and you’re good to go.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 60 seconds. Each move is demonstrated by Matthew Meyer, head run coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, so you can learn the perfect form. If you have more time, repeat the series 1 to 2 more times for a 10- to 15-minute warmup.
1. Standing Hip Controlled Articular Rotation (CAR)
How to do it: Stand tall on your right leg and raise the left knee to 90-degrees in line with left hip. Brace your core, keep your pelvis in a neutral position, and place hands on hips for balance. Rotate left knee out to the side, then down and in toward your centerline, then back up to the starting position—think of it as drawing a circle in the air with your knee. The pace here is slow and controlled; be sure to keep your pelvis and lower back as still as possible while doing this movement. The goal is to increase the range of motion in the hip joint. Repeat 5 to 10 times per side for a total of 60 seconds.
Why do it: 'These help you asses and improve your range of motion and lubricate the hip joint. They also increase mobility, which will be beneficial not only for your immediate workout but also for your joint health in the long run,' says Fitzgerald.
Doing this exercise consistently is key. There’s not a lot of dynamic hip motion involved with running, and 'if you don’t use your hip mobility, you lose it,' adds Gentilcore.
2. Lunge With Side Bend
How to do it: Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart, engage your core, and place hands on hips. Take a big step forward with left foot. Bend left knee to a 90-degree angle to lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor with knee centred over your ankle. Bend right knee slightly as right heel lifts off the floor. When you feel stable, rest left forearm on left thigh and reach the right arm straight overhead, creating length in your right side body. Then bend your torso over to the left while stretching the right arm over your head to the left. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to standing and repeat on the other side. Continue to alternate for 60 seconds.
Why do it: 'Running is a single-leg activity, so it makes sense to warm up with a single-leg variation,' Gentilcore says. 'The side bend adds an additional plane of motion—frontal—which many runners fail to train.'
Fitzgeralds also likes this stretch because it prepares you for the single-leg load you experience during the run, stretches out the quad all the way to the shoulder, and opens the pathway for more oxygen to come in while you breathe.
3. Standing Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch
How to do it: Stand tall and engage your core. Bend your right leg to bring right heel up toward your right glute and grasp your right ankle with your right hand. Pull your ankle into your glute while simultaneously tucking your tailbone down towards the ground, trying to posteriorly tilt your pelvis. You should feel the stretch along the length of your quad up into the front of your hips. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Why do it: 'The standing quad stretch opens up the front of the leg and helps lengthen your hip flexors,' Fitzgerald says. Tight hip flexors can affect the hamstring’s ability to activate fully, adds Gentilcore.
Beyond the stretch, this move has additional benefits. 'Standing on one leg at a time also helps to focus on stability and the firing of the core muscles to hold your posture upright,' Fitzgerald adds.
4. Lateral Squat Stretch
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet wide apart and your toes pointing forward. Clasp your hands in front of chest for balance. Shift your weight onto your right foot and bend right knee as you send hips back as though you were going to sit in a chair while keeping the left leg straight. Make sure your right knee does not move forward past your right toes. Aim to get your right thigh as horizontal as possible. You should feel a stretch along the muscles of your left inner thigh. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then switch to the other side. Repeat for 60 seconds.
Why do it: 'Adding in more frontal plane motion [with this movement] is a nice way to add variety and amplitude to a runner’s life. Plus, the adductors and groin are almost always ‘tight’ with most people,' says Gentilcore. Tight adductors can seriously mess with your stride, Fitzgerald explains, so loosening them up can promote better form.
5. Standing Dynamic Hamstring/Calf Stretch
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Place the heel of the right foot about 12 inches in front of you and flex the foot. Keeping the right leg straight, shift your weight onto the left leg while bending it slightly at the knee, and send your hips back—you should feel a stretch down the back of your right leg. Stay in this position and point the right foot, hold for 5 seconds, then flex the foot for 5 seconds. Repeat this 3 times per leg.
Why do it: 'The hamstrings are a major muscle group that power the running motion. [This stretch] can allow you to get deep into the hamstring without static or over-stretching,' Fitzgerald says. Plus, this move does double-duty with a calf stretch.
Tight calves are an almost universal concern for runners and can contribute to several issues. That’s because the gastrocnemius muscle crosses the knee joint and is often a culprit of knee pain, according to Gentilcore.
'Your calves are smaller muscles that handle a ton of load and spring as a runner,' adds Fitzgerald. 'With a point and flex of your foot, you can warm up the entire backside of your leg.'
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