What’s the perfect way to warm up before a run?
It’s one of the longest-running (pun intended) debates within the running community. Growing up, most of us were told to use static stretches before running. Static stretching, of course, is designed to improve your flexibility prior to activity, helping push your muscles and joints to new and more comfortable ranges.
For many, this is the standard warmup before a run. It gets you feeling great and warms up the body a little, and it does this without getting you fatigued or raising your heart rate. The bright side about that, in theory: You feel like you have more energy and “oomph” for your long run. It’s also quick and easy and simple.
But that over-before-it-starts static warmup is not your best move, as recent studies have shown. One 2017 study found that stretching prior to activity actually decreased your “force output,” which is basically your ability apply force as you run. If you can’t really attack the ground with each stride and push off with power, you’re going to be a slower runner.
And 11 years ago, a study pushed the virtues of dynamic stretching, showing that it improved human performance and positively influenced everything you want during a good run: Power, speed, agility, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity.
The trick with this warmup: It takes time and energy. But given the payoff, yes, you’re best off burning 10 minutes prepping for your next run.
The Warmup Before the Warmup
The smartest and most efficient warmup gives your body a chance to loosen up, gradually increases your blood flow and heart rate, and prepares you for the intended sport.
That’s especially important for runners, who repeat a very similar motion (your stride) over and over and over again. You want to repeat a clean stride, not waste motion or utilize harmful mechanics.
So we’re going to warm up in several steps.
Walk Before You Run
You’re going to start this warmup simply: By walking. Walking is a low-intensity exercise that will start to push a little bit of blood flow, which is especially useful if you’ve been sitting all day. It will also take your joints, muscles, and tendons through normal ranges of motion. Walk for 3 to 5 minutes. You can keep this on the shorter end, around 3 minutes.
Then Jog And Stride
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As soon as you’re done walking, shift right into a jog. This should also take 3 to 5 minutes, preferably closer to 5 minutes. Once the blood is flowing and the temperature of your muscles has increased, you’re ready to stride.
What’s a stride? Think of a stride as much a running drill that has you overexaggerating your running form. You’re not trying to go fast, but with each, um, stride of a stride, you’re trying to be precise: Knees high, feet dorsiflexed at the top, driving off the ground hard. Strides should occur naturally from your jog as you pick up the pace slightly.
Pick up the pace for about 50 meters, then gradually slow it down again to a jog, then fall back into a walk. After 25 to 50 meters of walking, do 50 meters of strides again, then again drop into a jog then walk; repeat this 3 times.
The Dynamic Warmup
Your body’s almost ready to run hard and fast for your workout now. Your goal with this is to move the skeletal muscles you’re going to use during your run — glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves — while also hitting important stabilizers like your abs and shoulders. Do each of the six moves below to do that.
Standing High Pull
Stand tall and grab your knees with both hands. Pull your right knee to your chest; come up onto your left toes as you do this. Repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 5.
Glute Table Top
Stand tall. Cradle your right leg at the knee and ankle in one hand. Pull your ankle and knee into your chest. That’s 1 rep; do 5 per side.
Stand tall, left knee bent, right leg extended forward and straight. Your right heel should be in the ground. Hinge at the hips and reach down towards toes, scoop and return to the standing position. That’s 1 rep; do 5 per side.
Stand tall, and grab your right ankle with your right hand. Pull your right foot toward your right glute; you should feel a stretch in your glute. Pause, then return to the start and repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 5 per side.
Single-Leg No-Weight Deadlift
Stand on your right leg, knee slightly bent. Keeping your core tight and your back flat, hinge at the hips, bending forward until your torso is about parallel with the floor. Pause here,. Then drive back to the start; repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 5.
Stand on your right leg with your knee slightly bent. Drive your right knee up toward your chest, as high as you can. Bring that knee down, and push through as your forefoot glides across the floor; this will extend your hip. That’s 1 rep; do 5 on each side.
That’s an ideal running warmup, getting your body primed for its mission and setting you up for success. And don’t forget to set yourself up for running success in other ways, too. That can (and should) include foam rolling throughout the week, and hydrating and monitoring your diet closely. And don’t forget core strengthening, which can easily be trained with planks (need a refresher course on planks? Check the video below). Fitness continues when you leave the workout.
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