Hands up who does a warm-up before they head out on a run? We thought so.
Like cool downs and strength work, a warm-up is something many runners neglect. In fact, a Runners World study found that as many as 75% of us are guilty of shirking a pre-run routine. After all, the longer we spend warming up, the less time we have to do what we really love – running.
But skipping warm-ups could be doing you a disservice. Adding a simple warm-up to your routine can improve your running form and efficiency, stop you going out too fast and, most importantly, help reduce your injury risk.
Why should runners warm up?
‘Gradually raising your heart rate and getting your muscles and joints loosened up and ready for exercise, increases your range of motion and improves your muscles’ elasticity,’ says Jerry Faulkner, NURVV’s New York City-based run coach.
‘This reduces your chance of pulling a muscle or injuring a joint or tendon. It also helps you have a better workout.
‘If you run without warming up, you’ll have a harder time settling into a steady pace and are more likely to set off too fast and burn out before your run’s finished.
‘A warm-up can get you in the right headspace for running, too,’ he adds. ‘So you feel strong, energised and ready to go!’
Want to add an effective warm-up to your training schedule? Try Jerry’s simple three-step warm-up before your next run.
Step 1: easy run or walk
Before your workout, gradually raise your heart rate with a 5-10 minute jog or walk.
‘This gets your body used to the movements used in running, opening up your hips and your stride without putting too much stress on your heart,’ says Jerry. ‘It also enhances blood flow so your muscles get plenty of oxygen to help you run more efficiently.’
Step 2: light stretching
‘Once you’ve warmed up with a jog or walk, open up your range of motion and get your muscles ready to work with some light stretching,’ says Jerry.
Perform each stretch once on each side, holding for 10-15 seconds.
- Calf stretch
Place one foot in front of the other with your front leg bent and back leg straight. Lean into your front leg. You’ll feel this in your calf and Achilles tendon.
- Lateral hip movement
Stand with legs wide. Take your weight to the right side and then the left side, bending each leg in turn. This will help open your hips.
- Quad stretch
Bend your leg behind you and take hold of your foot with the opposite hand, raising your free arm to the sky. Using the opposite hand to foot puts less stress on your knee joint as you stretch your quad.
- Toe touch
With your legs hip width apart, bend over and slowly extend your hands towards your toes. Bend your knees If you need, and don’t strain to touch the floor, the idea here is to gently open up your back, glutes and hamstring muscles.
- Knee to chest
Bring your knee up towards your chest, as high as you can without having to lean forward, and hug it in. This opens up your hamstrings, hips, glutes and lower back.
- Calf and hamstring stretch
With one foot in front of the other, slightly bend your back leg and straighten your front leg with toes. Reach towards your toes to target your Achilles, calf, hamstring and glutes.
Don’t be tempted to hold your stretches for longer than 30 seconds in your warm up. Studies have linked prolonged static stretching – where the stretch is held in place – to a dip in performance when done before a run.
‘Remember, you’re not trying to build flexibility here, you’re just trying to prepare your body for the workout,’ says Jerry.
Step 3: plyometrics
Finish off your warm-up with dynamic exercises, using controlled movements to improve your range of motion. ‘These exercises will help open up the hips, too, which is where most of the power comes from as your run,’ says Jerry.
Jog with high knees for 30 seconds, bringing each knee up to a 90º angle. Make sure to pump your arms and keep your back straight.
Jog for 30 seconds, bringing your heels to your butt to work on your kicking back range and cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground as you run). Make sure you keep your back straight and pump your arms.
Walking toe touch
Walk forwards, swinging each leg in turn straight in front of you and reaching towards your toe with the opposite hand. This exercise is sometimes called the Frankenstein Walk or Toy Soldier and will open up your hamstrings, quads and hip flexors.