How To Warm Up Before Running, According to Doctor (with Photos)
Before running, use dynamic stretching to activate your joints and muscles. Avoid static stretching; it can cause injuries and make you run slower.
Start your warmup with neck, shoulders and arm drills. Continue with the hips, legs and knees. Finish by warming up the ankles and running in place, slowly then quickly.
For this article, our team collaborated with Dr. Sergey Schepin: a running coach and medical doctor.
He gave us a 5-minute set of dynamic warm up exercises. He also explained why he recommends these specific exercises.
Below, we’ll go through each one step-by-step. If you want to see all of them in sequence, see your YouTube video, “how to warm up before running” below.
Table of Contents
Warm Up the Neck
Avoid neck circles a.k.a neck rolls. This exercise puts your neck in an unnatural position and can lead to pain and injury.
Instead, use the following dynamic warm up sequence in any order.
1 – Look down, then straight ahead. Repeat 10-20 times. Do not look upwards and back; this can overcompress the spine.
2 – Look left, then look right. Repeat 10-20 times. Don’t push too hard; go through a comfortable range of motion.
3 – Tilt your head left, then right. Repeat 10-20 times. Again, go easy and let your body warm up slowly.
Warm Up the Shoulders
Put your hands on your shoulders. Make sure there’s no discomfort in the wrist, elbow, back or shoulder.
Move your elbows forward in circular motions. Repeat 10-20 times, moving faster with each repetition.
Then move your elbows backwards in circular motions. Repeat 10-20 times.
As you do this exercise, your torso will also start to warm up a little.
Warm Up the Elbow
With your hands still on your shoulders, rotate the hands and forearms inwards. Repeat 10-20 times.
Now do the same, but rotate your hands and forearms outwards. Repeat another 10-20 times.
Warm Up the Wrist
1 – Put your arms in front of you and ball your fists up. Now rotate the hands towards each other. Repeat 10-20 times.
Now rotate the hands away from each other. Repeat 10-20 times.
2 – Clasp the hands together. Use your elbows to move the wrists through their range of motion. Repeat 5 times before reversing direction.
3 – Straighten your arms, cross your forearms and clasp your hands together. Bring them inwards and straighten them again. Be careful with this exercise; it’s not for people with low mobility or high muscle mass.
Warm Up the Hips
1 – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Put your right hand on your right hip. Raise your left hand in the air (don’t straighten it).
Now lean your torso right. Repeat 10-20 times, then reverse direction for another 10-20 repetitions.
You want to feel a little tension here, but not too much. If you feel a strong pull in your hips or back, apply less effort or bend your elbow more.
2 – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent.
Bend down towards one leg, reaching your hands towards it. Now bend directly downwards. Then bend towards the opposite leg. Repeat 5-10 times.
Don’t try to touch your toes unless you’re very mobile. Just focus on feeling a light stretch in your back and hamstrings.
Clasped High Knee Warmup
Lift one leg, pointing the knee at the sky or ceiling. Clasp your hands below the knee once it gets to waist level. Gently the leg pull towards yourself.
Hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat 5 times for each leg.
Don’t worry about doing unassisted high knee drills right now. We’ll get to them later in our warm up routine.
Leg Warm-Up: Rotations
Stand on your left foot and rotate the right foot outwards and up. Do your best to point the left knee towards the sky.
Repeat 3-5 times, then reverse direction and repeat another 3-5 times. Do a total 10-15 repetitions in each direction.
Once you’re done, stand on your right foot and repeat for the left foot.
Bodyweight Squat Warmup Sequence
1 – Start with knees shoulder-width. Squat down in your natural range of motion. Bounce up and down a little, 5-10 repetitions.
Don’t overexert yourself. Some people can only bend their knees slightly, others can go all the way down. Don’t push yourself.
2 – Widen your stance. Squat down with limited range of motion; well above knee level. Repeat 10-20 times.
Heel Raises for the Calf & Foot
Move your weight to the balls of your feet and lift your heels. Bounce around for a second or two.
Now roll back to the heel, lifting the toes a little. Repeat 10-20 times.
1 – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees. Now rotate them clockwise 5-10 repetitions and repeat in the other direction.
2 – Take a wider stance. Rotate the knees inward, towards each other. 5-10 repetitions, then reverse direction and rotate them outwards.
Make sure to shift your weight using your feet for the above exercises! If you keep them glued to the ground, you could injure yourself easily.
With your feet close together, roll your knees clockwise. Shift your weight as you move. Go from the heel to the right side of each foot to the toes and so on.
Repeat 5-10 times, then change direction. Get a light stretch in your feet and toes without overexerting yourself. If you have weak ankles, doing this exercise daily will help you. Also make sure to wear the right shoes for proper ankle support.
Low Jumps for the Foot, Calf & Leg
Jump using the balls of your feet. Repeat 10-20 times.
Shift your weight outwards, away from the ball of the foot. Jump another 10-20 times.
Shift your weight inwards, towards the ball of the foot. Jump another 10-20 times.
Jump a few more minutes. If you have a jump rope, use it. We want to get your heart rate going and your body – warmed up.
Not only will this exercise keep your heart rate up, but it will also help against annoying foot cramps.
Running in Place
Lift your right leg up. Point the knee upwards and keep a relaxed foot. Now let the foot drop.
Repeat with the left leg. Keep going until you get a good 10-15 repetitions for each leg.
Now keep going while slowly increasing the tempo. Make sure the foot is relaxed. As you gain speed, you’ll start running in place.
Transitioning into Running
Now that our dynamic warm-up sequence is finished, you can start running. To do that, just shift your head forward slightly. The rest of the body will follow.
For more information on how to run correctly, stay tuned for our soon-to-be-published article on running form.
What About Walking Lunges to Warm Up Before Running?
Many runners use lunge drills to warm up. The thing is, a lunge is a complex movement. Many casual runners get it wrong.
So what can you do? Well, you can use high knees and leg rotations to open up the hip flexor muscles. You can also use squats to activate the glute-quad-hamstring chain.
If you’re experienced or have someone who can teach you, then go ahead and use lunges. Just make sure you’re doing them right.
What About Butt Kick Drills?
Butt kicks are kicks where you try to reach your butt with your foot. Dr. Schepin says they’re good for glute and hamstring activation – especially if you do lunges instead of squats.
The problem with butt kicks is that they can reinforce bad running habits. So, like lunges, only use them if you know what you’re doing.
What About Running Drills?
We recommend you do running drills after running, or separately. Warming up with a drill meant to improve your form and performance can make running afterwards difficult.
Nevertheless, always make sure to warm up before running. This way, you can avoid sprains, painful Achilles Tendonitis, and premature fatigue.
Start with the upper body: neck, shoulders, arms and back. Then warm up your hips.
Afterwards, move on to the mobility exercises for legs, feet, knees and hamstrings.
Spend at least 30 seconds on each stretch. The whole warmup should take you 5-10 minutes. Don’t skip any steps! They’re all important. Also, make sure you are wearing proper shoes for running.