The Pre-Run Stretching Routine Everyone Should Be Doing
Pounding the pavement with muscles that aren't properly prepped can result in injury. Learn how to warm up before running with these dynamic stretches.
When you climb into your car on a frigid winter morning, 12 hours after you left it parked in the cold garage, is it warm inside? Or is it icy and raw, and maybe sputtering a little to start? Getting those seats up to temp takes a few minutes—the older the car, the longer it needs.
You see where this analogy is going. Before you fire up your body and put it in gear, you need to give it a chance to warm up. Literally. “When muscles are cold, they’re like a cold rubber band—more likely to snap than stretch when you pull on them,” says Marni Wasserman, a running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City who also privately trains runners through her Always On The Run program. “Doing a proper dynamic warm up, especially on cold days, will help prevent injury by getting blood circulating, safely increasing range of motion and activating muscles so that they’re ready for the demands of running.” Research backs her up: One study found that dynamic stretching before a workout can boost balance, agility and speed of movement, too.
Whether you’re out there for miles or just a short sprint, a proper warm up is especially important for runners, according to other research: Those who performed a dynamic stretching routine before a treadmill workout were better able to sustain a hard effort for longer than those who didn’t. With that in mind, Wasserman offers these suggestions for what to look for in a warm-up routine.
"A smart running warm up gives your muscles, bones and joints a chance to loosen up,” she says. “It gradually and gently brings up your heart rate, and makes it easier to get into the rhythm you want to sustain so you can run—and finish—feeling exhilarated and energized enough to go longer."
For ways to become a better runner, try these five moves from Wasserman before your next workout.
World's Greatest Stretch
Begin in a low lunge position with your right knee at 90 degrees, your right hand on the floor, right foot outside of the right hand, and the left leg extended back with the ball of the foot pressing into the ground. From here, twist the left arm up toward the sky. Then lower the left elbow toward the middle of your right foot to deepen the stretch. Repeat on the left. Do three reps per side, holding each movement for 3-5 seconds.
Stand with your right side near a wall or counter, right hand against the wall for balance. Slowly swing your right (inside) leg back and forth, increasing your range of motion each time. Repeat 10 times; switch sides. Then turn to face the wall and put both hands on it for support. Shift your weight to your left leg. Swing the right leg out to the side and then across your body. Repeat 10 times; switch sides. Repeat both the front and lateral swings 2-3 times.
This is a three-part move: reverse lunge, lateral lunge and forward lunge. Repeat the entire series for 2-3 times. Hands can be at your hips, chest or sides throughout—whatever is comfortable.
*Reverse lunge: From a standing position, step the right foot back and bend knees to 90 degrees. The back knee should hover above the ground. The front knee should be over the ankle. Keep your torso upright as you push off the back foot to return to standing. Repeat on the left side.
*Lateral lunge: From a standing position, step out to the right and shift your body weight over your right leg, bending the right knee to 90 degrees. Keep the left leg straight. Keeping your torso upright, lower your hips into a squat with the right leg. Exhale and engage your core as you push off the right foot and step back to center. Repeat on the left side.
*Forward lunge: From a standing position, step the right foot forward and bend knees to 90 degrees. Similar to the reverse lunge, the back knee should hover and the front knee should be over your ankle. Push through your front foot to step back and return to standing. Repeat on the left side.
Squats / Jump Squat
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Keeping your torso upright, sink hips down and back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Press your entire foot into the ground as you stand tall again, squeezing your butt at the top. (For a more advanced version, try jump squats, exploding from the bottom of the squat into a vertical jump. Land softly with your knees slightly bent.) Repeat for 60 seconds.
Start in a standing position. Drive the right knee up into a skip and then bring the foot down fast directly under you. Alternate sides, swinging opposite arm with opposite leg (ex: left arm should swing forward when the right knee is up, just like in running). Keep the torso upright and the foot of the lifted knee flexed so that your toe points back toward your nose. Repeat 2-3 times for 15-20 seconds.
Once your body is warm and loose, check the laces on your favorite running shoes, then head out to the trails, track or treadmill for a solid session.