Running Warm-up Exercises
Fall is here and it is running season! With the cooler weather, less humidity, and less people outside. It makes it perfect time for running. Plus, this is the time of year when many marathons and races are held. Stay healthy and reduce your risk of injury by warming up prior to running.
Warming up is best practice no matter what kind of physical activity you are going to participate in. An effective warm-up dilates your blood vessels, allowing more blood flow to the working muscles and raising your muscle temperature which leads to a decrease in muscle viscosity or the amount of resistance within the muscles. Thus, allowing the muscles to become more flexible and increasing their efficiency. Leading to a reduction in the likelihood of injury. An effective warm-up also slowly raises the heart rate helping to minimize the stress placed on your heart during running. A sport specific warm-up can also improve your mental focus and reaction time.
Traditionally warm-ups for running included static stretching. Static stretching involves holding a stretch for a set amount of time. As our knowledge has developed so has our understanding of static stretching and its role in warm-ups. Several studies have demonstrated that static stretching does not reduce the chances of an overuse injury, nor can it correct any muscle imbalances. With some studies even suggesting that static stretching prior to exercise could lead to injury due to a decrease in stabilization after stretching. For these reasons static stretching is no longer advised prior to physical activity.
There is some evidence to suggest that even short bursts of exercise such as a warm-up can lead to an increase in cartilage in the weight bearing joint. Which in turn can lead to an increase in the load bearing surface within the joint allowing force to be more evenly distributed. Leading to a reduction in injuries.
Components of an effective running warm-up
- Spend 5-10 minutes doing light aerobic exercise such as walking, light jogging, marching on the spot or cycling. Making sure you are not rushing and that you are working at an easy pace while moving through the full range of motion in the joint you are using.
- Spend approximately 5 minutes (or more if needed) doing dynamic movements or prehab. These movements should target the areas of the body you generally feel the tightest in when you are running or when you have completed your run. Jumping jacks, walking lunges, dynamic stretches and activation activities are all good options. If you are low on time, you can combine the light aerobic exercises and the dynamic movements into one just make sure that you are keeping moving and raising your heart rate when performing the warm-up.
- When you begin running start slow even after a warm-up and then build up your speed gradually. You should be able to still breathe comfortably. If you find yourself getting out of breath or are struggling to catch your breath you may be going to fast even if you have warmed up prior to the run. Use your breathing as a guide to help you set the pace for your run and to know weather you are working too hard or not hard enough.
- While you are running pay attention to your form to ensure you are using the best technique possible even if this means slowing down. Also pay attention to anywhere in your body that is painful or feels tight. You can then incorporate movements for these areas into your next warm up.
Example warm-up exercises
Bear squat to downward dog
Begin by kneeling on the floor with heels under the bum. Feet should be flexed. With your toes bent. You should feel a stretch in the bottom of the foot the ankle and you may even feel it in the knees.
If your mobility allows sit directly on your heels and then slowly rock from side to side focusing on any areas that feel tight.
Come up into a downward dog position pushing both heels towards the floor. Slowly lift right heel off the ground while pushing the left down. Then lower the right heel and lift the left. Continue alternating sides or pedaling the feet.
Return to kneeling and repeat. Make sure you keep moving and don’t stay in one position too long.
Start in a high plank position.
Bring right leg to outside of right arm.
Lifting the right arm reach fingers towards the ceiling. Straightening the arm and looking towards the fingertips.
Return arm to the floor.
Return right leg to starting position.
Bring left leg to outside of left arm.
Lifting the left arm reach fingers towards the ceiling. Straightening the arm and looking towards the fingertips.
Return left arm to the floor.
Return left leg to starting position.
Continue to alternate sides.
IT band stretch
Standing tall cross right foot over left ensuring that both feet are in alignment. The toes on the right foot should line up with the toes on the left foot.
In a slow and controlled motion with no bouncing reach both arms towards the middle of the left foot. Keep fingertips in line with each other, do not bend the knees. Keeping the legs straight is more important than how far you can go down. If you feel the knees start to bend stop there. If you can’t reach your feet that’s ok!
Come back to standing and return right foot to starting position.
Repeat on the left side.
Continue alternating sides ensuring that you are using your muscles and not momentum.
Cross body swing to lateral raise
Start standing tall facing a wall. Place hands on the wall. Turn the toes of the left leg in slightly. Using your muscles and not momentum swing left leg diagonally out to the left side.
Using your muscles and not momentum swing your leg back diagonally across the body, bending the knee and bringing it towards the right side using your leg muscles and abdominals.
Repeat for the desired amount of time or repetitions. Then switch sides and repeat.
Make sure your toes on the working foot do not turn out.
Standing tall bring right knee towards chest. Ensuring that you do not collapse through the upper body. Grab right knee with right hand and slowly rotate knee out to the right side. Pause for 1-2 seconds.
Rotate right knee back to center and release leg returning to the starting position.
Repeat on left side.
Continue alternating sides.
Clinical Exercise Physiologist