Runners Warm-up Guide

Basics of Warming-up

Every athlete must do a specific warm-up for his or her sport. For runners, a basic warm-up should focus primarily on loosening the leg and shoulder muscle groups. Investing at least 10 to 15 minutes on a warm-up before starting your training run or race is certainly well spend time. Warming up prior to any physical activity does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its main purpose is to prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by helping to increase the body's core temperature, this automatically increases the body's muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you're helping to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable.

A proper warm up also has the effect of increasing both your heart rate and your respiratory rate. Increased heart rate increases blood flow, which in turn increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. All this helps to prepare the muscles, tendons and joints for more strenuous activity.

Four Elements of a Warming-up Routine

A well structured warm-up should start gently and build up to mimicking the activities done during the main physical activity, in this case running. We suggest a four step warm-up plan which has been tested by runners and coaches who claim reduced injuries.

  • Basic Warm-up
  • Static Stretching
  • The Running specific warm-up
  • Dynamic Stretching

Basic Warm-up

To increase the heart and respiratory rate and core temperature a Basic warm up should consist of a light physical activity, like walking, jogging. Both the intensity and duration of the basic warm up, depends on your athletic fitness level. However, a correct warm up for the average athlete should take about five to ten minutes. Any type of warm-up should result in breaking a light sweat. Now the blood is flowing faster, your joints are lubricated, and the muscles are warmed-up, you can move the the next element which is static stretching.

Static Stretching

Static stretching has been found beneficial for overall flexibility which can help lengthen your stride and thereby improving your running time. However, there has been a lot of controversy lately over the adverse effects of static stretching and possibly reduced muscle contraction speed and therefore impair runners and other athletes. To avoid negative effects, it is crucial, to conduct minimal static stretching early in the warm-up procedure, and follow static stretching with a runners specific warm-up routine. When these elements (warm-up jog --> light stretching --> specific warm-up stretching --> dynamic stretching) are executed in correct order they allow your limbs a greater range of movement preventing muscle and tendon injuries.

A static stretch means placing a certain muscle or muscle group in a position where it can be extended for a certain amount of time. In this stage of the warm-up routine the stretch can be held for as short as 10 seconds. Every muscle or muscle group needs to be stretched only one time. When applying a stretch, make sure the body is in balance. Slowly lean into the stretch, paying attention to the sensations in that particular muscle group. You can feel that there is a stretch but it should not hurt. Do not bounce or make jerky movements while stretching because that might result in the opposite effect such as a muscle tensing up to protect itself from being extended too far (the stretch reflex). Aim to stretch the muscle by trying to relax it more on every out breath. As you become more sensitive to bodily sensations as you do stretching exercises more often, you might notice that muscle tense up a little while breathing in and relaxing on the out breath. This knowledge might become useful as you increase your long runs where body parts such as the shoulders become increasingly tense.

static stretching in this phase should cover the main muscle groups in the shoulder, arm, torso, and leg areas. More specific stretching comes after static stretching. The most one can benefit from static stretching is after the main run or race in the cool down period.

Runners' Specific Warm-up

In this very essential part of the warming-up, there is a focus on the movements of a runner and the muscles involved. It is dynamically stretching and warming-up of the running muscles. Going through the same movements as you do in running but in exaggerated form. These exaggerated movements will stretch, and by intense movement warm the muscles used during long distance and marathon running. Remember that running a short distance from the 100 meter sprint to 1000 meter uses different mechanics than long distance running and marathon running so the warming-up is not the same. Please check out the runners specific warm-up page for extended explanation and examples.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is the most modern and up-to-date method of preparing any athlete for better performance. Dynamic stretching involves a controlled, swinging motion or soft bounce to force a particular body part and muscle past its usual range of movement. The force of the bounce or swing should be gradually increased, but radical or uncontrolled movements should be avoided.

Dynamic stretching is the final part of the warm-up and should result in the athlete reaching a physical and mental peak. At this point the athlete is most prepared for the rigors of their sport or activity.

Final note on Warming-up

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving a runners' athletic performance and getting rid of annoying running injuries. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as warming-up and stretching won't be effective.


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