Sometimes, I think back to when I started running. Honestly, I was such a newbie. The thing I was most concerned with was getting all the right “gear.” I searched endlessly for the perfect running shoes, the best windbreaker, and all of the accessories I would need for running in a Wisconsin winter.
What I did not do was research the best warmup for running.
As a result, I often had achy joints and got several injuries over the first few months of my running career.
That is, until I talked with Joe. We’ll call him Joe for anonymity’s sake, but he was really my neighbor a few houses down. He was a runner too, and I’d seen him and talking to him on the trails a few times before he finally piped up one day: “Hey, do you ever do a warm-up before your run?”
“Uhh…” I responded, “not really.”
“I didn’t think so,” he said, as kindly as possible. “I’ve seen you from time to time just sprint out your door for your runs.”
Of course, this made me extremely self-conscious. How was I supposed to know you have to do a warm-up!?
Well, that day pretty much changed my running life. Joe, who was quite a good long-distance runner, shared with me his warmup, and it was really effective and helping my times and preventing injuries. Since then, I’ve developed a few of my own that I want to share with you.
The Best Warmups for Running
Warmup #1 – The Time Crunch (5 minutes)
Okay, for this one, you are going to do each exercise for thirty seconds, so get your stopwatch (smartphone) out.
1. Butt kicks: Start by running in place. Do a few “regular” running steps to get you started, then turn up the juice. Aim to kick your butt with your lifted leg on each step.
2. High knees: You’ve been kicking back, now, after 30 seconds of that and without stopping, start bringing your knees up in front of you. You want to get your thighs parallel to the ground with each high knee, if possible.
3. Slow squats: Again, without stopping, step hips’ distance apart, and start doing slow, controlled squats. You should be trying to get your thighs parallel to the ground, but keep your shins and thighs at a 90° angle to each other. Go as slow as you need to; it’s not a race.
4. Plank: After 30 seconds of squats, plop down into plank. You can either do a forearm plank or a traditional plank.
If you’re new to planking, you can even drop your knees down. The point is to hold a steady plank, with your back as parallel to the ground as possible, for 30 seconds.
Place your hands, palms up, on your knees, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, and let your heart rate come down.
Warmup #2 – The 10-Step Loosen Up (8 minutes)
This one’s for if you have a bit more time to get your muscles ready for your run.
1. Shoulder rolls: Start with some shoulder rolls. Roll your shoulders back about 10 times, then forward about 10 times. End with some shoulder shrugs — all the way up and all the way down.
2. Neck rolls: Now begin turning your head from side to side. You don’t want to do full neck roles right away, but that’s what we’re working up to. After a few head turns side to side, do five neck rolls to the left and five neck rolls to the right.
3. Arm circles: Time to shake out those arms. Leave your left arm at your side, and bring your right arm from back to front in a wide circle that centers around your shoulder. Do this five times, then do the same thing on the other side.
4. Hip circles: We are working our way down the body, so now we are at the hips. With hands on your hips, stand shoulders’ width apart, and do five full hip circles to the left and five full hip circles to the right.
5. Squats: Inch your feet out about two inches on either side. Hold your arms in front of you, parallel to the ground, and do 10 full squats.
6. Lunges: When you’re finished doing that, place your hands on your hips and do five front lunges on the left and five front lunges on the right.
7. Pushups: Hop down and do ten push-ups. You can do them traditionally or with your knees lowered.
8. Butt kicks: Hop back up and launch into butt kicks. Have your stopwatch handy, and aim to do butt kicks for 15-30 seconds.
9. Knee highs: As soon as you finish your butt kicks, move on to knee highs (in front) for 15-30 seconds.
10. Hip circles: End with hip circles — about five to 10 on either side. This is a soft, calming movement that brings your heartrate down and preps those hip flexors for the big run ahead.
The Final Word on the Best Warmups for Running
There are a few other things I want to note about warmups before running.
First, keep in mind that if you are one of those people who wakes up, pops out of bed, throws on your running clothes, and is ready to run out the door right away, you actually might need a little bit more of a warmup … before your warmup.
That’s because right after sleep, your body is naturally tight, and even jumping in to some light squats or lunges might throw you for a loop. In this case, it’s better to basically just swing your arms around a lot and slowly start making circles with your shoulders and hips. This is a pre-warm-up warm-up if you will.
Physically, you need to warm up and loosen your muscles and joints so that they’re ready for a more exerting physical activity. Mentally, you’re prepping your mind for this big adventure you’re about to go on.
After all, every time you go outside to run, you’re taking yourself on a journey. Your warmup is that preparatory, psych-up phase. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you should never, ever skip your warmup. It is integral to your run — as integral as the actual running part in fact.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your shoes, and try one of these warmups on your next run. Happy trails!