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11 Best Pre-Run Warmup Exercises for Runners

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No matter how long or far you plan to run, you should always start your workout with a quick pre-run warmup. Warming up your muscles before a run will reduce the likelihood of injuries and ensure that your body is prepared to perform its best.

If you’re unsure how to warm up before a run, here’s a quick rundown with tips and examples of effective pre-run warmup exercises for runners.

Do I need to warmup before a run?

View of runners feet on the pavement mid run.

Yes, every athlete should warmup before beginning an exercise routine, especially runners! Although jumping right into exercise is tempting, it’s extremely important to reserve a few minutes for a proper pre-run warmup. Warming up before you run will adequately prepare your muscles for physical activity and help prevent injuries.

It takes time and effort, but if you make warming up part of your regular running routine, it will eventually feel normal, and you’ll automatically do it without thinking. 

Benefits of pre-run warmup

Two people stretching in the park.

Warming up before a run is well worth the time and effort. Some of the main benefits include:

  • It improves your muscles’ performance. Your blood vessels dilate as you warm up, increasing blood and oxygen flow to your muscles. This additional warmth also improves your flexibility, enhancing your running performance.
  • It’s good for your heart. Instead of jumping right into intense exercise, gradually increasing your heart rate with warmup exercises is better for your heart.1
  • It reduces the risk of injury. Many simple warmup exercises improve physical agility and tissue and muscle flexibility. As a result, you’re less likely to pull a muscle or injure yourself another way while running.

Should I stretch before a run?

Male doing a stretch on a bridge.

When you think of a pre-run warm-up, you might automatically think of running stretches, but you should avoid static stretching (aka holding a stretch). Research indicates static stretching doesn’t help warm up the body and, if anything, isn’t good for running.

Instead, try active stretches, also called dynamic stretches. These types of stretches will help warm your muscles before running. A few great dynamic stretches for runners include:

Large arm circles

  1. Stand up straight and bring your arms to your sides at shoulder height.
  2. Make large circles with your arms by swinging your arms forward.
  3. Complete five to 10 reps and then repeat with your arms swinging backward.

Jog to quad stretch

  1. Jog in place for two to three seconds.
  2. Reach behind one leg and hold your foot for two to three seconds. You should feel a slight stretch in your quad muscle (the front of your thigh).
  3. Repeat and stretch with the other leg.
  4. Complete five to 10 reps.

Spinal rotations

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bring your arms out to the side at shoulder height.
  3. Slowly rotate your body from right to left, but hold your core tight. Avoid twisting your torso.
  4. Complete five to 10 reps.

11 pre-run warmup exercises before running

A group of runners on a bridge about to start a race.

Now that you know what stretches to do for your pre-run workout, let’s look at some of the best warmup exercises for runners:

1. Squats

  1. Lean your weight back in your heels and sit back as if you could sit down on a chair. Be sure your knees aren’t going past your toes. 
  2. When you are at your lowest point, stand back up. 
  3. Repeat. 

2. Plank 

  1. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, with your body in a perpendicular line. 
  2. Press through your hands and keep your hips at shoulder height. Pull your core and thighs in. 
  3. Stay on your toes, or take your knees down and hold for a couple of breaths. 
  4. Repeat.

3. Lunge steps 

  1. Step one foot in front of you.
  2. Bend your front knee to stack over your ankle and bend your back knee to stack under your hips.
  3. Walk forward like this, switching sides as you walk. 

4. Side steps 

  1. Step one foot out to the side and then together. 
  2. Repeat and switch directions. 

5. High knees

  1. Run in a line and pull your knees up to your chest.
  2. Try to raise your knees to at least your hip height as you run. 
  3. Continue for a minute or two.

6. Hip rotation

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Put your hands on your hips and move your hips from left to right in a circular motion.
  3. Repeat and move your hips in the opposite direction.

7. Butt kicks 

  1. Run in a line and kick your feet to your butt.
  2. Alternate your legs as you run. 

8. Knee to chest

  1. Stand up straight or lie down flat on the ground.
  2. Bring one knee up to your chest and leave the other leg straight.
  3. Hold for a few minutes before switching to the other leg.
  4. Repeat for 15 seconds.

9. Forward skip

  1. Stand up straight and lift one of your legs to your waist, keeping your other leg straight.
  2. Skip forward and switch legs each time you land.
  3. Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute.

10. Mountain climbers

  1. Get down into a pushup position and engage your core.
  2. Run in place, bringing each knee up to your core.
  3. Continue for one minute.

11. Shoulder rolls

  1. Stand up straight with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  2. Shrug your shoulders up and back in a circular motion.
  3. Repeat for 15 to 30 seconds.

How long should my pre-run warmup be?

A group of people doing a stretch on pavement next to a beach.

A warmup should be brief enough that you don’t get tired but long enough that your body starts to get warm. For most athletes, this is about 5–10 minutes. After you’ve completed your pre-run warmup, don’t wait too long to get moving! You want your muscles to be warm when you start your run.

Key Takeaways:

Warming up before a run can prepare your muscles for exercise, improve your running performance, and prevent injuries. A proper warmup should include dynamic stretching and simple exercises. It only takes about five to 10 minutes!

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Sources:

  1. Warm Up, Cool Down. (2021, June 11). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/warm-up-cool-down 
  2. Wilson, J. M., Hornbuckle, L. M., Kim, J. S., Ugrinowitsch, C., Lee, S. R., Zourdos, M. C., Sommer, B., & Panton, L. B. (2010). Effects of Static Stretching on Energy Cost and Running Endurance Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(9), 2274–2279. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181b22ad6 

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