Warming up for running is just as important as for any sport, but it is also important that warm ups are sport specific, so a warm up you may do for a game of tennis should be different to a running warm up. We’ll cover the key elements of a good warm up as well as how to specifically warm up for running.
Why Warm Up?
There are several reasons for warming up, but all of them come back to the same fundamental principle; to get your body ready for exercise. It’s pretty stressful on the body to go straight into exercise; especially high intensity exercise. So the process of warming up will slowly increase heart rate and blood pressure without stressing the cardiovascular system, also the rapid movements of exercise are far more likely to cause connective tissue injury when you’re not sufficiently warm. When you warm up you give your body time to gently repress digestion and the gastrointestinal system so you are less likely to feel sick or bloated when exercising.
Finally there are the psychological benefits of warming up, you give yourself time to either get psyched up (in the case of highly physical or contact sports) or to focus on the task in front of you (very important for more skill based sports). With regards to team sports, the warm up has a great benefit on the team bonding and allowing time for strategy reinforcement.
Remember – Static stretches (traditional stretching where you hold a certain pose for a period of time) are not recommended as part of a warm up; unless you are already warm. There is a high risk of injury from overstretching when the body is not adequately warm, so save static stretching for the end of your workout or if really necessary then the end of your warm up. Check out our previous article if you want to know the best stretches for after your run.
How to warm up for running
As with any warm up, it needs to be specific to the sport, so here is our recommended approach to warming up for running:
Start with some gentle dynamic movements. This means starting with some movements that replicate what you would be doing when you run i.e. walk while lifting your knees up high and then walk with your heels lifting up towards to your bum; avoid any rapid jolting movements.
Introduce movements that will raise your heart rate. Start to up the pace so introduce activities like deep air squats, walking lunges and mountain climbers; still at a reasonable pace where you can still comfortably hold a conversation.
Add in more dynamic stretches. Now your breathing and heart rate is elevated and your body is fairly warm you can add in slightly more dynamic stretches such as these below:
Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand in one spot and raise your thigh up towards your chest as much as possible whilst standing up straight, using the opposite arm for balance; lower the leg and repeat on the other side.
Hip Extensor Stretch
This stretch really helps to open up the hips and will improve your stride length. Bend forward at the waist and extend your leg backwards, whilst pumping your arm on the side of the leg forwards and the other arm backwards (almost like running with one leg stuck to the ground).
This one is very similar to the classic quad stretch, except it’s dynamic rather than static, so you bring your heel up to your bum and then swing your thigh backwards and as you do pump the arms for balance.
Similar to the hip flexor stretch in that you bring your thigh up towards your chest, but then to stretch the hamstrings you extend the leg straight out as much as possible; again working the arms for balance.
This is a great movement for the ankles and the calves. You simply bring your toes up towards your shin (dorsiflexion) and then do the opposite (plantarflexion).
Finally go for a run! But hold your horses, don’t just go straight into your normal run, always add a small distance (around 10% of your intended run) at the start of your run to warm up. This warm up run should be fairly gentle, at a pace that you can still hold brief snippets of conversation (around 55-60% of your max HR if you’re using a heart rate monitor) and add in small bouts (around 10 paces) of raising your knees up high and pumping your arms. Don’t skip this step as many people do, it is the most specific part of the warm up and will really prepare you for your run.
Try this specific warm up for running and let us know in the comments below if it helped your running or made you feel better. If you have any thoughts or extra tips for your fellow runners you can add them in the comments below.