If you’re like the majority of people out there, you probably don’t warm up before you run (no, bouncing down to touch your toes a few times before you set out is not the same as warming up!). But the importance of a good quality warm up shouldn’t be underestimated, both to reduce the risk of injury and improve the quality of your run.
Whilst you may feel that time spent warming up is time that could have been spent running, just think how much less time you’ll be spending running if you get injured. Or how much better you’ll feel as you start to shave the seconds off your PB!
Although there’s lots of conflicting advice around stretching and warming up, most agree that static stretching – the old school style of holding each stretch for something like 30 seconds – isn’t helpful before running. In fact this type of stretching could actually reduce your performance on the run.
Instead you want to do “dynamic stretching” – a gentle, moving stretch which will increase the blood flow to the muscles and warm them up, as well as beginning to mobilise and lubricate the joints, reducing your risk of injury.
Using dynamic stretches which get the body moving in a similar way to how you do when running, combined with some simple drills, will also help build the connections (or neuromuscular pathways) between your brain and your body. Whilst you can just run on autopilot, if you want to improve your technique and form on the run, then spending some time really focussing on your movements will help improve the quality of the running that follows.
What to include in your warm up, and how long for
If you have access to a foam roller then roll anywhere that’s feeling tight before you go out for your run. Then begin with a brisk walk or very gentle run (for me this is normally going from my house to the park or where ever I’m going to start my run) to start to gently warm up the muscles.
Next onto the dynamic stretches. In terms of which stretches to include, think through the main muscles that you’ll be using when running and try and include something using each one. You don’t have to do each stretch for long, I tend to do 5-8 reps on each side, more if I’m feeling tight in that area, less if it already feels loosened up. You’ll soon get to know the areas where you need to spend a bit longer.
Here’s a video I’ve recorded with a simple, pre-run dynamic stretch sequence. I’ve included kneeling hip flexor stretch, a hamstring hug (big thanks to James at Kinetic Revolution for this one, it’s one of my favourites), a clock lunge sequence, and a calf stretch and mobilisation.
And then onto the drills – these will mimic some of the movements you’ll use in running (but often in exaggerated form) so that you can really focus on the quality of the move. In this run drills video I’ve included some high knees, heel flicks, high knees combined with heel flicks, and then a high skip. I would then go on to some strides – a few sets of 30 sec runs at slightly higher pace than your goal pace for the workout with a good rest between each.
Mentally walk through the parts of the body that you’re using and check they’re all doing what they should be. It depends on the drill (and in the case of this video, the fact that I’m on a very boggy hill!) but a good check list would include:
- Are you upright? (imagine a cord from your head up to the sky or ceiling above)
- Is your core engaged?
- Are you looking ahead rather than down at the floor?
- Are your hips level and your knee straight in front rather than crossing inwards in front of your body? (you can see in this video that my knee comes out slightly as I try and balance up the hill).
- Are you using your arms for power and are they coordinated with your leg movements?
There is no magic number of minutes that you should spend warming up, but as a rule of thumb, I’d say a few minutes with the initial walk or gentle jog to begin warming up, about 5 minutes with the dynamic stretching, and then the drills can either just last for a few minutes each, or much longer if you really want to focus on your technique in that session.
Give that a go next time you go out for a run. Let me know how you get on or if you have any questions in the comments section below.