Long gone are the days when a quick static stretch would be considered a proper warm-up before a run. In fact, we now understand that static stretches do very little to prepare the body for exercise, and can actually reduce power output and predispose you to overuse injuries when done before running.
But a proper runner-specific warm-up sequence will reduce your risk of developing an injury while enhancing performance. That’s why dynamic stretching is a more effective way to prep for a run.
Dynamic stretches are exaggerated movements, drills and light strength exercises that use the muscles themselves to improve flexibility and mobility, rather than simply holding a position for a predetermined period of time.
But why exactly would you want to complete this type of exercise before you go running? Won’t it make you tired?
What Does a Good Warm-Up Routine Do?
AdventHealth physical therapist Philip Agostinelli explained why static stretching is no match for the physiological benefits of an active warm-up routine.
“Recent research shows that static stretching will improve range of motion and flexibility, but can also decrease measured strength and power output, which may decrease in running and jumping performance,” he said. “It’s recommended that you perform more dynamic warm-ups, which research shows can improve power output for running and jumping activities.”
An effective routine will:
- Raise your core body temperature
- Open capillaries in the extremities and promote oxygenated blood flow
- Increase heart rate and respiration (metabolically priming you for running)
- Lubricate the joint capsules of the ankles, knees and hips
- Improve range of motion of muscle and connective tissues
- Activate “dormant” muscle groups after sedentary behavior like sitting at work
- Enhance performance (in other words, faster workout and race times)
Only movement accomplishes these goals. And a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that well-trained male runners run faster after a dynamic warm-up.
Agostinelli agrees. “The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare the body to perform the specific activity, with gradually increasing heart rate as well as blood flow to the muscles; also, to improve the range of motion of joints which may assist with flexibility.”
He noted that both joint range of motion and flexibility, “will help prepare the body for activity; this will assist with decreasing musculotendinous injuries.”
Perhaps just as importantly, after years of anecdotal evidence from thousands of runners who have simply felt better after a dynamic warm-up, there’s a lot of support in the running coaching community for these types of exercises.
When and How Should You Warm Up?
Ideally, a warm-up routine that lasts about 10 minutes should take place immediately before a run. This ensures you’ll reap of the benefits of the routine, like an elevated heart rate and respiration.
Even if you must wait 10-15 minutes before starting a run, you’ll benefit more than simply skipping a dynamic warm-up routine.
Example dynamic stretches include leg swings, donkey kicks and even bodyweight squats or single-leg deadlifts. But rather than a hodgepodge of exercises, it’s most beneficial for runners to structure their warm-up into a short routine.
Here’s a great example.
Most runners can use the same type of warm-up sequence for every type of run that they do. There aren’t too many differences in the demands of running, after all.
But if you’re a more advanced runner who’s completing challenging interval workouts or running fast races, you may want a slightly longer warm-up that includes drills and/or skipping variations.
Skipping and drills (like A-Skip, B-Skip, Carioca, high-knees, and others) prime the nervous system for more dynamic movement, like running close to your top speed or fast sprints.
They also ensure the body is fully warm, flexible, responsive and ready for the harder work of running very fast.
If any of the exercises mentioned here happen to cause pain or discomfort, you can simply skip them or find a similar replacement. None of these movements should cause pain; any painful sensations should be discussed with your doctor.
For any runner, limiting the risk of injury, improving performance and feeling more responsive are telltale signs that they’re healthy and progressing forward.
A dynamic warm-up routine that increases your heart rate, range of motion and respiration will metabolically prime your body for running. And it’s a training tool for all runners, no matter your age or ability.
Now get warm, primed, and ready to run!