How and why to warm up before a run

·4-min read
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

It's hard enough to overcome the lure of a cosy bed for an early morning run, or to squeeze in a four-miler after work. But on top of it, runners constantly hear that they should tack on a 20-minute running warm-up, too. That’s not happening: a poll of Runner’s World Instagram followers confirmed that most – 75 per cent – forgo a proper warm-up. So does doing one actually benefit your run that much?

It certainly looks that way, according to a study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics. Researchers split a group of 36 athletes into three groups: those who did a 20-minute bicycling warm-up before performing weighted lunges, those who only did a cool down, and those who did neither. Everyone was given a pain threshold test on the two days following, to determine muscle soreness, and guess what? The group who warmed up had the highest pain threshold and reported relatively ache-free muscles.

There’s a big difference between that bicycling warm-up and simply taking it slow the first mile into your run, too, says Katie Dundas, a doctor of physical therapy. ‘Both cycling and running keep blood moving to bigger muscles in the legs, which is important in a warm-up, but the cycling also provides a dynamic stretch to the hamstrings and quadriceps,’ she says. ‘A light jog doesn’t offer that same stretch and response movement.’

A dynamic warm-up, even one that lasts just five minutes, provides the stretch needed to run stronger and help prevent injury.

So if there’s no question that a warm-up gives you bonus benefits, the real question becomes: ‘How long do I need to do it for?’

And it’s a good-news answer: warming up for just 10 minutes may work as well as a session lasting 20 minutes or more, so long as that time is spent on focused, dynamic movement. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when scientists analysed velocity, heart rate, oxygen intake and rate of perceived exertion in endurance runners, they noted that there were no significant difference sin most categories between the two protocols.

In fact, Dundas says, you can halve that time, if really necessary.‘ An abbreviated version of five minutes of dynamic stretching still provides what you need to help prevent injury.’

That may be the most important reason to warm up for running. As we age, muscle elasticity decreases, and Dundas says warming up properly expands your range of motion to help counteract those deficits.

Perform these six dynamic moves from Dundas at the start of every run, doing each for 30 seconds to one minute. Then consider your running engine officially revved.

Running warm up drills and stretches

Quad + piriformis walk

Targets: Quads, glutes, piriformis

How: Grab one foot behind you, pull toward your bum. Release, step forward; switch legs. After 30 secs, cradle right leg at the ankle and knee, pull up to chest. Release, step forward; switch legs. Repeat for 30 secs.

Photo credit: Charlie Layton
Photo credit: Charlie Layton

Frankenstein walk

Targets: Hamstrings

How: Start standing with feet together. Extend right leg straight out in front of you as you bring left hand to tap right toes. Lower leg and step forward; repeat on opposite side. Continue for 30 secs.

Photo credit: Charlie Layton
Photo credit: Charlie Layton

Hip opener

Targets: Deep hip external rotators

How: From standing, bend left knee and lift leg to hip level, then rotate out to 90 degrees.(Place left hand under knee to stabilise.)Bring leg back to front; lower foot and switch sides. Repeat for 30 secs.

Leg crossover + scorpion

Targets: Lower back, hamstrings, hips

How: Lie face-up, legs straight and arms out.Lift right leg up and across body, tapping foot on floor. Return to start; repeat on other side. After 30 secs, flip over to lie facedown and repeat. Continue for 30 secs.

Arm circles

Photo credit: Charlie Layton
Photo credit: Charlie Layton

Targets: Chest, deltoids, upper back

Stand with feet shoulder-width a part and lift arms out to shoulder height, palms down. Make small circles; after30 seconds, switch direction. Continue for another 30 secs.

Inch worm

Targets: Core, deltoids, hamstrings

From standing, bend forward at the waist to touch your toes, then walk hands out to a plank. Hold for two seconds; walk feet to meet hands. Roll up to starting position. Repeat for one minute.

Photo credit: Charlie Layton
Photo credit: Charlie Layton

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