Running, like resistance training, powerlifting, weightlifting, and competitive fitness, is highly taxing on the connective tissues and muscles. Failure to adequately warm-up before hard training can result in decreased performance, increased injury risks, and a potential lack of mental preparation for the session to come.
This article discusses why runners should be focusing on a running-specific dynamic warm-up and how they can truly build in the below routines and bonus muscle activation exercises to maximize running performance and injury resilience.
- How to Do a Dynamic Warm-Up for Running
- Benefits of a Dynamic Warm-Up for Running
- Activation and Warm-Up Exercises for Running
- Frequently Asked Questions
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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. Runners and coaches can also add the below activation exercises to maximize muscle engagement, enhance performance and help to prevent injuries.
Perform the below dynamic warm-up following any static stretching, foam rolling, and tissue manipulation you may need to do before running. When done, feel free to do a few activation exercises to maximize running performance and injury resilience.
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General Dynamic Warm-Up for Running
- Walking Knee Hug x 10 each leg
- Walking Quadriceps/Knee Flexion + Hip Extension Pull x 10 each leg
- Lateral Lunge x 10 each leg
- Walking Hamstring Stretch x 10 each leg
- Walking Groiner + Reach x 10 each leg
- Leg Swings x 10 each leg
- High Knees x 10 each leg
- Butt Kicks x 10 each leg
- Power Skips x 10 each leg
- Bunny Hops x 20
The importance of performing dynamic warm-ups is clear when it comes to enhancing performance and minimizing the risk of injury due to a lack of physical preparedness for proper joint/muscle functioning before 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
Below are seven muscle activation exercises that can be included within a dynamic warm-up or 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.
Why do it: Monster walks, done with a resistance band or mini-band, are a great way to 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, laterally, or backward. 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).
Sets and reps: two to three sets of eight to 10 steps per leg.
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Why do it: Valslide lunges (which you can also do on a pair of socks on a hardwood floor) increase motor control, muscle engagement, balance, stability, and eccentric stability. Running exacts a toll on the hamstrings, making this crucial to properly prepare an athlete before exercise to help avoid pulls, strains, and other injuries. Runners can also perform both reverse and lateral lunges.
Sets and reps: two to three sets of eight to 10 reps per leg.
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Why do it: Strong and healthy calves offer ankle stability and injury resilience to connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) of the foot. During the gait cycle, the ankle moves from plantarflexion (toes pressing down into the ground as heel lifts) and dorsiflexion (toes elevate) each stride. The calves (and the tibialis anterior) are key muscles that resist eccentric loading upon landing and offer muscular force to push away from the ground to propel oneself forward. Simply performing a few sets of calf raises at various speeds can help to prepare the calves and ankles for running.
Sets and reps: two to three sets of 15-20 reps per leg.
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Valslide/Towel Body Saw
Why do it: The valslide body saw is a plank variation (which you can also do using a towel on a smooth surface) that combines scapular stabilization and control with core strength. When performing this exercise, you must forcefully contract the abs, making sure not to allow the pelvis to tilt excessively forward (which creates lumbar extension). In doing so, you can help to create and prime better torso positioning for running.
Sets and reps: two to three sets of 15-20 reps (controlled scapular movements).
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Why do it: The glute bridge has 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.
Sets and reps: two to three sets of 15-20 reps.
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Banded Hip Flexion
Why do it: This is a quick banded exercise that can help to strengthen the hip flexors, tibialis anterior (to help with shin splints), and wake up the core. By simply placing the miniband around the middle of both feet, 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 minimize knee pain/issues that may arise from knee overextension).
Sets and reps: two to three sets of eight to 10 reps per leg.
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Should I stretch after running?
Stretching after a run or workout can help improve flexibility and restoring mobility. It can also help aid in recovery by increasing blood flow to muscles.
Can I over-stretch muscles before running?
Yes. Before training, you can perform light static stretch holds. However, you should do dynamic stretches to increase blood flow and take the muscle through the full range of motion. Before a training session, you want to place some stretch on the muscle, however not enough to create any soreness or structural changes.
How long should a dynamic warm-up be?
Dynamic warm-ups, which can also include activation exercises, can typically take five to 15 minutes.
Featured image: Spectral-Design/Shutterstock