The Ultimate Running Warm-Up Guide

Whether you’re preparing for a marathon or just want to do a few loops of your local park, you probably know you should do some kind of running warm-up. However, a recent poll in the US found that three quarters of runners do nothing to raise their body’s temperature before working out. Warming up is easy to forgo, but by doing so, you miss out on many potential benefits.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to warm up for a run.

What is a running warm-up?

A warm-up is a short session consisting of light cardio exercise and stretches which you do just before a more intensive workout. While warming up is about getting your whole body get prepared, a running warm-up focuses especially on the legs.

The warm-up literally warms your body up, raising the temperature of your muscles so they don’t immediately go from being ‘cold’ to working at full throttle. A warm-up also increases your heart rate and breathing, and gets more blood circulating to your extremities. Ultimately, it’s about shifting your body gradually into the workout.

Why should I do warm-ups before running?

There are plenty of reasons to build some warm-up exercises and stretches into your routine. These include:

  • Avoiding injury: Warming up increases muscle elasticity and reduces tension – running ‘cold’, on the other hand, increases your risk of pulling or hurting muscles
  • Reducing soreness: Research has shown that runners who warm up before exercise have less soreness the day after working out than those who only cool down or do no warm-up at all
  • Getting you mentally prepared: Especially before a long race, doing some running warm-up exercises helps to get you ‘into the zone’.

How long should you warm up for?

You may have heard that you should warm up for as much as 20 or even 30 minutes. While it’s true that professional runners and other athletes may spend that much time – or more – warming up, regular runners needn’t do as much.

Generally speaking, if you’re just doing a short jog around your local park, you may not need more than a couple of minutes to get the blood flowing. On the other hand, for longer runs such as marathons or half marathons, you might find it worthwhile spending at least 10 minutes doing some of the light exercises and stretches below.

Simple warm-ups before running to fit into your routine

There are two kinds of exercise involved in warming up – ‘static’ warm-up (typically stretching on the spot) and ‘active’ warm-up (where you move around). Let’s look at some simple examples of each.

Active running warm-up examples

Active warm-ups help your body prepare for movement. Start with these before doing the static warm-ups below.

  • Walking: For many runners a brisk walk is the perfect warm-up – if you’re just doing a fairly short workout, spend 3 to 5 minutes walking at an elevated pace – that’s really all you need to warm up.
  • Striders: Striders are a useful warm-up for fast races in particular, such as your local 5K, or before any kind of speed training. Begin with a couple of minutes of slow jogging. Next, find a 100-metre distance – a running track or down the side of a sports field, for instance – and begin gradually accelerating for about 60 metres, reaching a sprint before decelerating for the last 40 metres. Repeat three times.
  • Lunges: Lunges are a great active warm-up. Find a suitable space and then take one big step forward and bend both knees. Push up with your front foot to standing, before switching feet and lunging forward again. Repeat the lunges ten times, turn around then repeat again.

Static warm-ups for running

Now you’re warmed up from the active movements, try out a few different stretches as described below:

    1. Thigh stretch
    • Stand up straight, facing forward, then grab the top of your left foot with your left arm
    • Bring the foot up behind you, towards your buttock, and hold for around 15 seconds
    • Change legs and repeat

    2. Hamstring stretch
    • Stand upright, with hands on hips
    • Place your left leg in front of the right
    • Bend the right leg while pointing your left foot upwards
    • Hinge your torso forward and hold the stretch for 15 seconds
    • Change legs and repeat

    3. Hip stretch
    • Facing forward, step your left leg to the front
    • Bend the left leg at the knee while keeping your torso straight
    • Contract your right buttock until you feel a stretch across the right hip joint
    • Change legs and repeat

How to warm up before a run
There are so many benefits to warming up before a run, and it really only takes a couple of minutes. While it’s tempting to just get on with your exercise, warming up reduces the risk of injury and discomfort and will make both your workouts and your races more enjoyable.