How to Properly Warm-Up For a Running Event

Useful Definitions:

  • Static stretching: Holding a steady stretch for longer periods of time (usually around 30 seconds-1 minute) in a relaxed state. This stretch is usually done to the point of feeling an “uncomfortable” tension.
  • Dynamic stretching: Movements that mimic the motion involved in a sport. Generally thought of as a “warm-up”. Think of arm circles, Frankensteins, jumping jacks, etc

In the first blog post of the running series, I mentioned that static stretching is a common warm-up strategy immediately before a run, but it is not the best route for optimal performance nor injury prevention. Static stretching might make you “feel” good due to it’s analgesic effect but it often masks underlying issues. Additionally, it reduces the ability of your muscles to react quickly (which is needed if, say, you almost roll an ankle when running but need to correct it before it goes to far….among other things that may occur when running), and overall can negatively influence the likelihood that you will perform optimally. That being said, static stretching should be saved for after an event instead of immediately before for best results. 

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, primes the neuromuscular system, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments for movement rather than inhibits it (Lewis, 2014; Perrier et al., 2011; Taylor et al. (2009). One point of interest is that it is not necessarily the “stretch” involved with the dynamic stretch that makes it effective, but the fact that it increases the body’s temperature (Lewis, 2014). […Hence the name “Warm-Up”…]. In all, dynamic stretching should precede a running event versus static stretching. By the way, the same goes for foam rolling. Foam rolling also just makes people feel good due to the analgesic effect but does not prepare your body’s tissues for performance and will do a lousy job on increasing your body’s temperature. 

While dynamic stretching is important for preparing for a running event, the exercise choices need to be specific to the movement/muscles involved with running (or whatever sport you are preparing for) to be effective (Lewis, 2014; Taylor et al., 2009). Running is a total body exercise, but obviously the most stress is placed on the lower body. Believe it or not, the core also plays a huge role in the sport of running and should be primed as well. 

Here are some exercises/dynamic stretches that can be done immediately prior to a running event to optimize performance:

  1. 3-Way Lunge Matrix: This exercise helps prepare your body to move in all three planes of motion (which is critical for human movement in general), increases the body’s temperature, and targets both the upper and lower body. 
  1. 3-Way T-Spine Matrix: This is another exercises that helps prepare your body to move in all three planes of movement and increases the body’s temperature but focuses a bit more on the upper body. 
  1. Frankensteins: This warm-up drill targets the lower body with an emphasis on stretching the hamstrings and activating the hip flexors. Frankensteins should be a staple in any runner’s warm-up plan.
  1. Knee Grabs: This exercise helps dynamically stretch the glutei muscles and increase body temperature. Given that the glutes are (arguably) the most influential muscles in running performance, this stretch gets the green light. 
  1. Dynamic calf stretch: Obviously, this exercise targets the calves… which are up there with the glutes in importance for running.
  • https://youtu.be/7Zs4hh4cp98
  1. Deadbugs: This exercise focuses on the core muscles. One of the most important things to look out for in this exercise is to make sure the space between your low back and the ground stays flat. People often will arch their back as a compensation, which can place a lot of stress through the low back. This exercise looks easy but it may be difficult for some people to do without compensating. Thus, two variations are provided here. 
  1. Walking: This is one of the closest ways to mimic running, gradually increase body temperature, and prepare the body to run. Some other things you can do are skip or march in place (especially if you are at a 5K event…it could be awkward to just walk around in circles at the starting line lol…). 

In summary, preparing for a run with dynamic stretching and/or walking is one of the smartest things you can do for optimal health and performance outcomes. Static stretching, foam rolling, and other passive modalities are best saved for the end of a running event. This list is not an exhaustive list of warming up by any means…. The list of exercises you could do is literally endless, however, this could be a great starting point if you are looking for ideas. Also, some people may not be able to fit in all of these exercises before a run due to a time constraint. If that is the case, pick 2-3 of the exercises to try before each run and experiment with what works best for your body. 

If you made it this far and have read this blog post in its entirety, thank you! I hope these tips will benefit you on your running journey. As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Best in health, 

Jessica Kasten, M.S. Kinesiology, CSCS, CPT, FRCms

References:

Lewis, J. (2014). A systematic literature review of the relationship between stretching and athletic injury prevention. Orthopedic Nursing, 33(6), 312.

Perrier, E. T., Pavol, M. J., & Hoffman, M. A. (2011). The acute effects of a warm-up including static or dynamic stretching on countermovement jump height, reaction time, and flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1925-1931. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73959

Taylor, K., Sheppard, J. M., Lee, H., & Plummer, N. (2009). Negative effect of static stretching restored when combined with a sport specific warm-up component. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(6), 657-661. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2008.04.004

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