Every runner has experienced that discomfort of hopping out of bed, getting off of the couch, or jumping out of the car and immediately starting to run. There are so many warm-up routines out there that it can be overwhelming to decide what to do. I have found that the most effective pre-run warm-up is one that is simple and can be done in 5 minutes because that increases the likelihood a time conscious runner will do the routine consistently. Here is what I do before runs:
Walk around a little bit – instead of starting the warm-up routine straight from sitting, spend about a minute just walking around to begin increasing blood flow to your legs.
Exercise bands – using a loop exercise band around your legs, with slightly bent knees, do 10 side-steps in each direction, 10 forward steps, and 10 backward steps. This supports multi-planar hip strength and mobility. If you do not have exercise bands, you can do the same movements without one until you are able to get one.
Lunges and calf raises – next do 10 alternating forward lunges, 10 alternating side lunges, and 10 alternating backward lunges. If you experience knee pain with forward or backward lunges, you should skip those and only do the side lunges. Following lunges, do 5 to 10 double-leg calf raises for some light calf activation.
Butt kicks and high knees – do about 5 to 10 light butt kicks and 5 to 10 high knees. On the butt kicks, don’t actually kick yourself in the rear, just slightly exaggerate the normal back kick of running as a way to get some dynamic knee flexion without the loading of lunges or squats. On the high knees, focus on reducing your ground contact time with each step.
Leg swings – finally, do 5 to 10 gentle leg swings forward-and-back and side-to-side. Aim to keep these light and without resistance. Now you are ready to start your run!
I have found with myself and many of the runners I have coached, that everything gets stiff and achy after a run if I sit back down immediately after finishing the run. Most runners do not want to spend 20-30 minutes doing an elaborate strength and mobility routine right after they finish running, but most of us can spare less than 5 minutes to do a little bit of strength and mobility. Here is what I do immediately after finishing a run:
Lunges – 10 alternating rear lunges and 10 alternating side lunges. After the repetitive forward steps we take during our run, it feels good to take some backward and side steps while reinforcing hip and glute strength.
Leg swings – 5 to 10 gentle leg swings forward-and-back and side-to-side. Again, these don’t need to be aggressive, just aim to lightly work through the full hip range of motion.
Optional stretching – the research and athlete feedback on stretching is mixed and potential benefit or detriment is likely due to numerous individual factors. If stretching does not make your body feel strong and resilient, then it might not be a great use of your time to spend it doing stretches. I do a short light stretching routine focused on quads, hamstrings, IT band, piriformis, and calves, spending 20-30 seconds on each stretch.
Maxx Antush currently lives in Moscow, Idaho where he is earning a PhD in Exercise Science with an emphasis on exercise physiology at the University of Idaho while also working as a graduate teaching assistant.