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A 4-Step Warm-Up Before Running: Why And How To Do It

A 20-Minute Warm-Up For Runners

Warming up before running stimulates blood circulations, enhances endurance and flexibility, and decreases the risk of injuries. Start with brisk walking and toe and heel walking. Move on to jogging for short strides. Finish up with dynamic stretches like front and lateral lunges, hip circles, skipping, and high knees.

Running is one of the best ways to attain fitness, maintain good health, and lead a stress-free life. However, running is not just about putting on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, fastening the shoe lace, and taking off. It is important to adequately warm up before you hit the track. In fact, not warming up adequately is one of the 13 rookie mistakes runners make.

Analytical studies find that a warm-up not only improves performance but also improves backward flexing and range of motion in people suffering from such impairments.1 2 Turns out, warming up with weighted vests may help long-distance runners perform much better too.3 Here’s a quick look at why you should warm up.

  • To increase endurance: Warm-ups increase the heart rate, prompting the heart to pump more blood into the body. This increases your core body temperature, dilating the blood vessels, including the arteries and the capillaries in the body, and enabling the blood to reach every nook of the body. As the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles increases, the muscles endure the exercise longer.4
  • To increase flexibility: A good warm-up helps the bones and joints become more flexible by changing the consistency of the synovial fluid, a viscous fluid in the synovial joints (say your elbows and knees) that prevents friction between the cartilages at the ends of the bones forming the joint and provides nutrition to the cartilage. Before a warm-up, the synovial fluid resembles a thick paste. Post warm-up, increase in body temperature makes this fluid thin. The joints get better lubrication and movement becomes easy and smooth.5
  • To prevent injuries: When the body is in a relaxed, rested state, the muscles do not need much blood circulation. Most of the small blood vessels or capillaries within those muscles are closed at this point, resulting in stiff, non-pliable muscles. Any intense physical activity at this stage is a clear recipe for injuries. Since warm-up increases muscle temperature, it improves blood and oxygen flow and helps avert injuries, including side stitches.6
  • To prepare the brain for intense activity: Warm-ups also help prep the mind for the activity. A study has shown that the endurance level of a human body is determined by the brain rather than their actual physical capacity. The central nervous system integrates information from various sources related to the exercise and limits the intensity and duration for which the skeletal muscles can perform without harming the body.7

An ideal workout starts with an aerobic activity that steadily builds up the heart rate. It is then followed by dynamic stretching involving large movements. The final step is sport-specific dynamic activities.8 Depending on the duration and speed of your run, you can customize your warm-ups. For instance, an easy, slow run doesn’t need as much warming up as a sprint or a marathon might. And the nature of the warm-ups will also differ. Simply walking briskly can be good enough for an easy run. For a long-distance run, you would need to raise your core body temperature considerably and your exercises should focus on building endurance. A sprint on the other hand needs plyometric exercises that can strengthen your muscles and increase power output. Here’s a general warm-up routine that you can modify as per your need.

1. Start With Walking: 2–3 Minutes

Brisk Walking

  • Keep your chin up, eyes gazing 5–6 meters ahead, back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Cover about 120 steps per minute.

Brisk Walk

Heel Walk and Toe Walk

Toe Walk: Rise up on your toes and lift your heel.

Toe Walk

Heel Walk: Lift your toes and step forward onto your heel.

Heel Walk

2. Build Up To A Jog: 5 Minutes

Start with a gentle jog for about 5 minutes, gradually building up pace. Also try backward jogging.

Backward Jogging/Running

Backward running puts less pressure on your knees. This warm-up is ideal if you have any knee problems. Also, it requires 30 per cent more energy when compared to forward running, which means it can burn more calories. You can also try jogging backwards.

Backward Running/Jogging

3. Do Dynamic Stretches: 7 Minutes

Studies have found that dynamic stretching, where you stretch your muscles while moving, helps more than static stretches, where you hold the stretch for about 30–40 seconds. Dynamic stretching raises the body temperature, activates muscles, increases lubrication, improves balance and coordination, and increases power output. This is why it is necessary before a sprint as well as a long-distance run.9 10

Front Lunges

  • Step forward with one leg.
  • Lower your hips until both knees are bent at 90-degree angle.
  • Make sure your front knee does not extend over your ankle.
  • Repeat on both sides, doing 10 reps on either side.

Front Lunges

Lateral Lunges

  • Step to the right with your right foot.
  • Keep your toes forward and your feet flat.
  • Squat down to your right side while keeping your left leg straight.
  • Push back and repeat on the opposite side.
  • Do 10 reps on either side.

Lateral Lunges

Hip Circles

  • Stand with your feet apart.
  • Keep your hands on your hip.
  • Rotate your hip in circles in clockwise and then counterclockwise direction.
  • Do 10 reps on either side.

Hip Circles

Butt Kicks

  • Walk forward.
  • Flex your left knee and the left leg behind you so the heel touches the glute.
  • Return that leg to the floor and repeat with the right leg.
  • Do 10 reps on either side.

Butt Kicks

Skipping

You can skip for about 50 meters before you run. While you skip, try increasing the height and the range of each skip.

Skipping

High Knees

The high knees exercise improves the flexibility and power in the lower limbs.

  • Stand straight looking ahead and arms hanging down by your side.
  • Lift your knees as high as possible (to the height of your hips, ideally).
  • Repeat the sequence on the opposite leg.

High Knees

4. End With Strides: 5 Minutes

Strides are short bursts of running at a high speed for about 100–150 m. Each stride takes about 20–30 seconds and is followed by a 45–60 seconds of jog or brisk walk. So you’d spend a total of about 15 minutes in a typical jog/stride routine.

  • Start with a jog and gradually accelerate.
  • Build up to your peak speed when you reach midway.
  • Slow down and come to a stop at the end of 100 m.
  • Walk or jog for about 1 minute or a little more to catch your breath.
  • Do the next stride.
  • Repeat 3–5 times.

Before a marathon, run longer and slower strides. Before a sprint, run fast and short strides. These even serve as dynamic stretches after an easy run.

Strides

Warm Up For At Least 15 Minutes

While some consider the slow first leg of the run as a warm-up itself, and it might suffice for an easy run, marathons or even long runs require a proper warm-up routine. Taking at least 15 minutes to warm up is ideal. You can split this into 10 minutes of walking/jogging with a few strides and 5 minutes of dynamic stretching, though longer sessions may be more beneficial. Here, we’ve mentioned a warm-up routine of almost 20 minutes. You may shorten the session by doing fewer strides or choosing any 3 stretch. Or you may lengthen it by adding more variations. You may also need longer warm-ups in winter. Just make sure you don’t tire out after the warm up and don’t keep a gap between your warm-up session and the actual run.

References   [ + ]

1. Knight, Claudia A., Carrie R. Rutledge, Michael E. Cox, Martha Acosta, and Susan J. Hall. “Effect of superficial heat, deep heat, and active exercise warm-up on the extensibility of the plantar flexors.”Physical Therapy 81, no. 6 (2001): 1206-1214.
2. Fradkin, Andrea J., Tsharni R. Zazryn, and James M. Smoliga. “Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24, no. 1 (2010): 140-148.
3. Barnes, K. R., W. G. Hopkins, M. R. McGuigan, and A. E. Kilding. “Warm-up with a weighted vest improves running performance via leg stiffness and running economy.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 18, no. 1 (2015): 103-108.
4. Neiva, Henrique P., Mário C. Marques, Tiago M. Barbosa, Mikel Izquierdo, and Daniel A. Marinho. “Warm-up and performance in competitive swimming.” Sports Medicine 44, no. 3 (2014): 319-330.
5. Shellock, Frank G., and William E. Prentice. “Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries.” Sports Medicine 2, no. 4 (1985): 267-278.
6. Shellock, Frank G., and William E. Prentice. “Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries.” Sports Medicine 2, no. 4 (1985): 267-278.
7. Kayser, Bengt. “Exercise starts and ends in the brain.” European journal of applied physiology 90, no. 3-4 (2003): 411-419.
8. Behm, David G., and Anis Chaouachi. “A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance.” European journal of applied physiology 111, no. 11 (2011): 2633-2651.
9. Fletcher, Iain M., and Ruth Anness. “The acute effects of combined static and dynamic stretch protocols on fifty-meter sprint performance in track-and-field athletes.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 21, no. 3 (2007): 784-787.
10. Dynamic Stretching Better Before Training and Racing. Runner’s World.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.