How To And Why You Should Perform A Running Warm Up

Before I talk to you about running warm ups I want to tell you a quick story.

James (my boyfriend) beat me in a hill sprint a few weekends ago.

Every Saturday we do hill sprints together. It’s fun, we get competitive and it’s a hard session. I usually win (because I’m a sprinter) which is added fun for me – I am super competitive. 

However, last weekend he beat me. I was pissed off. But when I thought back (which I did instantly because I wasn’t used to being beat), I realised I hadn’t warmed up at all. And in hindsight, that first rep felt awful. My legs weren’t prepared for me to try and sprint up a hill. My hamstrings felt tight, my knees ached, and I wasn’t mentally ready for the effort.

The following week, I spent 10-15 minutes doing a running warm up; going through some mobility, activations and running drills. I prepped my joints, tissues and my mind for the movements I was about to do. And guess what? I won! I was back baby! 

I’m sharing this because I know SO many of you don’t warm up prior to heading out for a run; and even though this is a silly story, it does highlight the impact a good warm up can have on your training. 

Now Here’s The Science

A running warm up prepares the body to perform by addressing the tissues and joints and priming the movements required for running. Doing so increases the body and therefore muscle temperature which means the muscles break down glycogen quicker and contraction speed of the muscle fibres is greater. Performing warm up exercises also increases oxygen uptake, closing the gap between demand and availability which occurs at the onset of exercise. In summary, warming up prepares the body for a bout of increased expenditure by enabling it to respond to this demand quicker.

Running Warm Up: Where To Start?

A warm-up should ramp up in intensity, starting low and increasing as you progress through. It should also be specific to the exercise you’re about to perform. A good place to start is to mobilise the key joints involved in the movement. In the case of running: the ankle, hips and spine. Doing some mobility in these areas will alleviate any areas of restriction which could translate into pain during your run. It will also improve your range of motion meaning you are more effective (can produce more force) through your movements. 

Once you’ve done some mobility it is important to prime the body for the movement of running. It is a good idea to include some exercises to activate the muscles in the lower body, improve single leg stability and prepare the feet for loading. Our feet bear all our load therefore it is important to warm them up just like any other muscle. Doing your warmup barefoot can help with this. 

The main muscle groups you want to address in this section are the core and gluteal muscles, quadriceps, calf’s and hamstrings. Double leg exercises like glute bridges and squats tick these boxes, however, I’d encourage single-leg work, as running is repeated single-leg impacts, to make it more specific. The stability element also forces us to engage our core, which is important for spinal stability. In addition to activation type exercises I’d suggest including some running drills as these are more dynamic and better replicate the motion of running. They will also add that final bit of intensity to your warmup and can help improve technique over time when performed correctly.

Try This Follow Along Warm Up For Runners

The following warm up is a guide and starting point. I also suggest checking out the video demonstrations of some running drills. As you learn more about your body you can deviate from this set routine and find what works for your body. There is no ‘magic’ ‘one-size-fits-all’ warm up out there because everyone is different, you need to prepare for your workout in a way that addresses your mobility and your workout. But I hope I have provided a good place to start and some understanding of why and how.

Running Warm Up | Follow Along

If you liked this blog you may also be interested to read ‘What is strength training and how can it help your running.’

For more info on how I can help you become a better runner please check out my ‘personal training’ page and ‘run strong: home workouts for runners’.