How to warm up before a run

The warm up before a run is one of the most important things you should be doing as a runner.

Whether you’re planning to run 100 metres, a 5k or a half marathon, the warm up is an essential way to get your body and muscles ready for the movement ahead.

You can think of a warm up as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the run – it mimics the activity that you’re about to do so you’re body is prepped as much as possible.

Think about it, you wouldn’t go straight into a singing competition without some sort of vocal training – the same applies to running.

You need to warm up your vocals (ahem, muscles) in order to achieve peak performance during your run and help prevent injury.

What is the basis for a warm up?

Well, this depends on the length and intensity of your run. The general rule is that the shorter and more explosive the run will be (like a 100m sprint), the bigger the warm up needs to be.

This is partly due to the types of muscle fibres that you’ll be using during the run, and the energy systems that your body needs to employ in order to get you through the activity.

Fast twitch (type II) muscle fibres are what your body uses during rapid and intense movements like sprinting, strength training and anaerobic training.

Whereas slow twitch (type I) muscle fibres are utilised for endurance-based, lower-intensity activities like long distance running.

The actual percentage of fibre types in humans is determined by genetics and heredity. These genetic differences significantly contribute to athletic ability.

For example, if you’re a long distance runner and regularly run marathons, your body will have more slow twitch muscle fibres.

Whereas if you’re more used to sprinting over shorter distances, your body will have more fast twitch muscle fibres.

All of this is important when considering a warm up because the type of activity and its intensity will affect how you warm up and therefore how much oxygen is delivered to the muscles in your body.

The general rule is that slow twitch fibres need more oxygen delivery, but produce less force, and fast twitch fibres don’t need as much oxygen, but produce more power.

At its core, a proper warm up consists of two main parts: jogging to get your heart racing and dynamic stretches to loosen your muscles.

You can also include running drills and speed workouts in this (which I explain more about below).

These warm up routines can be used before a 5k run, 10k run or half marathon. They work well to get your muscles ready for the run and raise your heart rate.

You won’t need to do much more than a light jog for 10-15 minutes before a half marathon.

The general rule around warm ups is the more intense the run will be (like a 5k at a moderate to fast pace), the longer the warm up needs to be to get your body ready for the run ahead.

How to warm up before a run: Go for a jog

Jogging is an integral part of any warm up – whether you’re running a 5k or half marathon.

Start with a steady jog at a moderate pace for 5-10 minutes to get your heart racing.

Many runners find themselves jogging to the start of a race which can be classified as a warm up.

Don’t feel you have to double up on the jogging when you arrive at the race venue as you may risk tiring yourself out before you’ve even started the race.

How to warm up before a run: Do some dynamic stretches

Dynamic stretching, sometimes called movement stretching, moves your limbs to lengthen muscles to the end of their range of motion.

Dynamic stretching is slightly different from static stretching in that it isn’t about holding a stretch but rather taking your body through ranges of motion that will better prepare you for your run.

A good rule to follow is dynamic stretching for warm up and static stretching for cool down.

Despite its name, dynamic stretching is all done in a controlled way so not to over-stretch your muscles.

I suggest around 8-10 repetitions of the following movements to get your body warmed up.

Forward lunges

Stand up straight and take a long step forward.

Lower your front thigh until it is parallel with the floor.

Your front knee should be directly above your right foot and your back knee should almost touch the ground.

Push through the front foot back to the starting position and switch sides.

Side lunges

Stand up straight and put your hands on your hips. Step to the side with your right foot, push back with your hips and bend your right knee.

Lower down until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Your feet should be facing forward.

Push through the right heel back to the starting position and switch sides.

Star touches

Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.

While keeping your legs as straight as possible, reach across your body with your right hand and touch the toes of your left foot.

Straighten back up to the starting position and repeat on the right side.

Standing knee-to-chest stretch

Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

Lift your right knee, interlace your fingers under your knee and pull your knee towards your chest. Keep your core engaged and do not lean back.

Lower your right leg to the starting position and repeat on the left side.

Leg swings

Support yourself on a wall or a post with one hand, and face straight ahead.

Swing one leg forward and back like a pendulum, keeping your posture tall and your core engaged.

Try not to swing your leg aggressively at first; instead, lightly start to swing it and grad­ually increase your range of motion.

As you get blood flow to the muscles, you will feel yourself loosen up. Relax your hip joint as much as possible. Do 20 swings for each leg.

Mountain climbers

Mountain climbers help loosen your glutes and hip flexors whilst slightly raising your heart rate. Get into a plank position on your hands.

Keeping your hands on the ground, bring your left leg forward into a lunge position. Next, simultaneously jump your right leg forward and left leg back.

Repeat this alternating pattern for 10 reps.

A-skips

A-skips are all about driving your knee forward like you would do in a skipping motion.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Pull one knee up toward your chest, driving off your opposite toe to hop up, then quickly place your foot back down.

Then, bring your other knee up toward your chest, pushing off your opposite toe for a hop. Alternate for 10 reps.

Jumping jacks

Jumping jacks are one of my favourite dynamic stretches because they improve circulation, activate your core and legs, and warm up your feet. Stand with your feet together. Jump your feet out wider than your hips, as you bring arms overhead. Jump your feet back together, bringing your arms down by your sides. Repeat at a quicker tempo.

How to warm up before a run: Practice some running drills

It’s important to elevate your heart rate and warm up your muscles before a 5k race.

Once you’ve gone for a jog and completed some dynamic stretches, you can try some running drills to increase your heart rate even more.

Running drills can be mixed with the jogging part of the warm up. Some of my favourite drills include: butt kicks, skipping and side to sides running.

How to warm up before a run: Do some speed workouts

Speed workouts are great for getting you ready for a 5k race. It can also work for longer races like a 10k or half marathon.

Whilst jogging, gradually increase your speed until you reach a sprint at 90% effort.

A distance of about 60 metres should be sufficient – you don’t want to maintain a sprint for much longer before the race or will you risk tiring yourself out.

Related: How to warm up properly before a 5k race

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