Running, like resistance training, powerlifting, weightlifting, and competitive fitness is highly taxing on the connective tissues and muscles. Failure to adequately warm up prior to hard training can result in decreased performance, increased injury risks, and a potential lack of mental preparation for the session to come.
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In this article we will discuss why runners should be focusing on a running-specific dynamic warm up and how they can build in the below routines and bonus muscle activation exercises to truly maximize running performance and injury resilience.
The Importance of a Dynamic Warm Up
In a previous article we discussed the basics of formulating and performing a dynamic warm up routine based upon your specific movements/sport/training session. In our Dynamic Warm Up Guide, we offered three additional sample dynamic warm up routines to help strength, power, and fitness athletes maximize performance and reduce injury risks.
The importance of performing dynamic warm ups are clear when it comes to enhancing performance and minimizing risk of injury due to lack of physical preparedness of proper joint/muscle functioning prior to high-impact exercise. Below, is a brief overview of the benefits of a dynamic warm-up (covered in full detail in the above guide).
- Increased Blood Flow
- Elevated Core Body Temperature
- Enhanced Oxygen Delivery to Active Muscle Tissues
- Efficient Metabolite Clearance from Fatigued Muscles
- Better Mobility and Joint Articulation
- Heightened Mental and Neurological Preparedness
Sample Dynamic Warm Up for Running
A dynamic warm up doesn’t need to be complicated, however there should be an emphasis on movements that target the legs, trunk, and core. The below video demonstrates how to perform a fast and efficient dynamic warm up for running. In addition, runners and coaches can add the below activation exercises to maximize muscle engagement and further enhance performance and injury resilience.
Perform the below dynamic warm-up following any static stretching, foam rolling, and tissue manipulation you may need to do prior to running. When done, feel free to do a few of the activation exercises to maximize running performance and injury resilience.
Perform 1 complete round of the following dynamic warm up:
- Walking Knee Hug x 20 (10/leg)
- Walking Quadriceps/Knee Flexion + Hip Extension Pull x 20 (10/leg)
- Lateral Lunge x 20 (10/leg)
- Walking Hamstring Stretch x 20 (10/leg)
- Walking Groiner + Reach x 20 (10/leg)
- Leg Swings x 20 (10/leg)
- High Knees x 20 (10/leg)
- Butt Kicks x 20 (10/leg)
- Power Skips x20 (10/leg)
- Bunny Hops x10-20 (both legs together)
Additional Activation and Warm Up Exercises for Running
Below are seven (7) muscle activation exercises that can be included within a dynamic warm up or simply performed following the above sample dynamic warm up. These movements below are key for increasing glute activation, core engagement, and preparing the necessary muscle groups for high impact training.
Monster walks, done with a resistance/mini band, are a great way to dynamically increase glute engagement while maintaining a stable core (assuming the athlete/runner does not go into lumbar hyperextension). This movement can be done while walking forwards, lateral, or backwards. Place the bands lower on the leg to challenge glute engagement to a higher degree, making sure the toes point forwards (similar to running gait).
- 2-3 sets of 8-10 steps per leg
Valslide lunges (also can be done with a towel on a smooth surface) can increase motor control, muscle engagement, balance, stability, and eccentric stability. Running, has a high eccentric component on the hamstrings, making it important to properly prepare an athlete prior to exercise to help avoid pulls, strains, and other injuries. In addition, runners can perform both reverse and lateral lunges.
- 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg
Strong and healthy calves can offer ankle stability and injury resilience to connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) of the foot. During the gait cycle, the ankle moved from plantar flexion (toes pressing down into ground as heel lifts) and dorsiflexion (toes elevate) each stride. The calves (as well as the tibialis anterior) are key muscles that must (1) resist eccentric loading upon landing and (2) offer muscular force to push away from the ground to propel oneself forwards. Simply performing a few sets of calf raises at various speeds can help to prepare the calves and ankles for running.
- 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps per leg
Valslide/Towel Body Saws
The valslide body saw is a plank variation (can also be done with a towel on a smooth surface) that combines scapular stabilization and control with core strength. When doing this, the athlete must forcefully contract the abdomen, making sure to not allow the pelvis to tilt excessively anterior (which creates lumbar extension). In doing so you can help to create and prime better torso positioning for running.
- 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps (controlled scapular movements)
The glute bridge has been discussed before here on BarBend, in which we covered the immense benefits this can have on posterior chain activation, strength, and proper hip functioning in lifting. In addition, stronger, more active glutes (in conjunction with proper spinal positioning) can help to reduce lower back stress and enhance power and strength in every stride.
- 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps (controlled hip extension with strong glute contraction every repetition)
Banded Hip Flexion
This is a quick banded exercise that can help to strengthen the hip flexors, tibialis anterior (to help with shin splints) and core activation. By simply placing the miniband around both midfoots, a lifter can then stand erect (with minimal torso flexion/extension) and pull on foot as high as they can, making sure to keep the toes elevated and the wheel being pulled towards the hips (knee bent). This can also aid in developing proper hamstring engagement in the loading phase of a foot strike (which can help to minimize knee pain/issues that may arise from knee overextension)..
- 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps (controlled hip flexion with minimal torso flexion or extension)
More Running Articles
Take a look at some of our previous running-focused fitness articles.
- How to Improve Running Without Sacrificing Strength
- Cardio and Powerlifting – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
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