The Warm-Up: Not Just for Race Day

Hint, hint

I once saw a post on Facebook that said something like, “The first 3 miles of my run were the best….said no one, ever.”  How many times have you spent those early miles waiting for a tight muscle to ease up or gritting it out until you finally hit your groove and stop feeling so flat?

We’ve discussed warm-ups here before: last spring, our esteemed leader, Salty, wrote an informative post about the race day warm-up with some excellent tips for the race or hard work-out situation.  Going a step further, I think a warm-up can be helpful if included before any run you do.  A good warm-up can get rid of the kinks while pumping up your heart-rate so when you set off on your run you’re feeling loose, light on your feet and ready to go, right from the beginning.  

Hey, the elites do it (see this video series detailing Meb Keflezighi’s pre-run routine) – why shouldn’t we?  

Here are some warm up techniques you can try:

Active Isolated Flexibility (AIF): Popularized by Phil and Jim Wharton of Wharton Health, AIF is a way of stretching your muscles as a continuous movement, assisted with a rope or your hands.  It’s done in sets of 8-12 reps with only a short pause at the end-range of the movement instead of holding for prolonged periods as you do with a static stretch.  In AIF, while one muscle works to initiate the movement, the opposite muscle lengthens and relaxes, the perfect time to hit it with an assisted stretch.  A good explanation and demonstration of this is available here, on the Wharton Health website.  Not only are you stretching during AIF, but you are also  getting the blood flowing to your muscles – very useful prior to a run!

Walking drills and variations: You know those fun, bouncy drills – buttkicks, heelkicks, A-skips, carioca, etc – you’re doing at the beginning of your more athletic runs?  You’re doing them to practice the movement patterns and range of motion achieved when you’re running at faster paces to prepare your body for fast running.  Well, if done at a walking pace you can similarly prepare your body for running even at slower paces.  Try walking while kicking your butt, or with a quick leg cycle, or up on your toes, or with high knees.  Or, you can exaggerate the use of your running muscles while you walk: walk with a hip-hike to fire up your glutes, walk on your toes like you’re stepping on a gas pedal to warm up your calf muscles.  You are limited only by your imagination!  People might look at you funny as they walk by you – but let them try to outrun you once you get started!

Dynamic stretches: With dynamic stretching you are stretching while on the move.  Again, this achieves lengthening of the muscles while also promoting blood flow to key areas and increasing your heart-rate in preparation for your run.  Two examples I personally like and do before all my runs are lunges and leg swings.  This lunge matrix may feel challenging the first few times you try it (you’re lunging a total of 50 times in 5 different directions!), but it really prepares your legs and your heart for the act of running.  You can do leg swings laterally (side to side) and linearly (front and back) – 10 reps/leg of each are a great quick hip opener prior to your run.

Hops and Jumps: When we’re running we’re jumping from foot to foot, so what better way to prepare for this than to do some double- and single-legged jumps before you run?  Keep the jumps light, just little taps without too much power behind them – remember, it’s just a warm-up.  Try going up on forefoot and jumping on “tall toes” (i.e. on the balls of your feet with a contracted calf), then dorsiflex your feet and land with a more flat foot.  You can also try jumping on forefoot but with bent knees.  After you’ve done a set or two of 10-20 reps of each, progress to light hops, again varying your landing from forefoot, flatfoot, bent leg, etc.  You can also do some light ice skaters (jumping from side to side a la Eric Heiden) and/or crossovers.  And then you’re ready to go!

Do you do a pre-run warm-up?  What do you find prepares you best for a great run?

Mom of three kiddos and a black lab, running enthusiast, sports-med-doctor-in-training. I love the science and sport of running and all things related.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. This is coming at such a great time! Just this morning when I was setting out my Achilles was complaining – rather loudly – and it seemed to get more and more painful until POP! It suddenly didn’t hurt at all. I spent the next half mile musing over how painful the first half mile had been and how that was always the worst part of a run.

    I’m going to try some of your warm up suggestions – thank you!

    1. Oh good! It takes a little extra time, but usually leads to a better run so it’s worth it. For achilles tightness, you can try shin walking: basically, you dorsiflex your feet and walk on your heels, 2*20-30 seconds alternating with some bouts of walking up on your toes with a contracted calf works well. Just be careful to either wear shoes when you do it, or if you’re barefoot do it on a soft surface like turf, or your heels won’t be happy! I hope this helps!

  2. I never realized it until I got a Garmin, but I start most of my runs at 10+ min for the first mile before hitting 8:30-9:00s for the rest. It just always feels like the same effort, but I guess I just naturally use the first few minutes to warm up. I don’t do any sort of formal warmup for regular runs but for workouts & races I do some strides. Should probably start doing a bit more!