“Warmups are important because these activities prime your body for running,” says Dr. Kellen Scantlebury, DPT, CSCS, owner of Fit Club NY, a physical therapy and sports performance facility based in New York City. You’ll warm up the muscle tissue and improve blood flow to the muscles you’ll be using,
“Taking the time to warm up before a run also improves your joints’ range of motion, elevates your heart rate, and prepares the muscles for running,” says Marnie Kunz, NASM-certified trainer and USATF- and RRCA-certified running coach and founder of Brooklyn-based Runstreet.com. “A limited range of motion and cold, tight muscles are more likely to lead to injuries,” she adds.
In other words, a proper warmup should just be part of every runner’s routine. Think of it as part of the run itself to help build it into a habit. Pressed for time or running on a treadmill on a crowded gym floor? “Doing a very slow, light jog for the first 10 minutes of your run will help warm your muscles up for more intense running ahead,” suggests Kunz. Otherwise, carve out a few minutes before your next run with these five exercises and your body will thank you.
1. Skipping Drills: 3 x 10 meters
Scantlebury loves skipping drills for runners. The A skip in particular “works on the knee drive you need for running and single-leg push-off, which takes place with every step,” he says. “With skipping, you use the arms to help drive the body off the ground, so you get the added benefit of some upper-extremity movements as well.” Stand tall with pelvis tucked and chest proud. Drive one knee toward the chest while pushing your body off the ground with the opposite leg. “Make sure to use momentum from your arms as well to help you get more lift with your skips,” he says. Keep alternating on each rep. If you have time, work through B skips, which build on these mechanics. Once you drive the knee up, extend the leg straight out, then drive it back down as if you were clawing the ground. Other helpful drills include straight-leg running, single-leg bounds, and striders (build speed as you run 50 meters).
2. Walking Lunges: 3 x 10 reps
“Many people lack hip extension when running, and walking lunges are a quick way to help with that,” says Scantlebury. Take an exaggerated step forward with one leg while bending both knees to nearly 90 degrees. Scantlebury suggests doing this movement for 10 reps, alternating legs each rep. Walking lunges amp up circulation in preparation for a run. “Blood flow increases in your leg muscles, making them more flexible and less likely to get pulled or strained,” says Kunz.
3. Double-Leg Pogo Hops: 3 x 10 reps
Double leg pogos are great low-level plyometrics for getting muscle activation from the plantar flexors. “These are your calf muscles, and they work really hard during runs of any distance,” says Scantlebury. “Plyometric drills are also great to perform because they specifically target type II muscle fibers—aka fast-twitch fibers—that are used when sprinting.” The movement is entirely in the ankles and balls of the feet. Jump off the ground using quick, small hops flexing toes toward shins when you’re in the air, then releasing just before you hit the ground. Keep ankles and knees stiff to really create the pogo effect.
4. Front and Back Leg Swings 2 x 10 reps each side
This dynamic stretch helps loosen the hips in preparation for running. “Many runners have tight hips, which can lead to injury,” says Kunz. “So this exercise is particularly helpful.” Stand with your back straight, shoulders back, and chest proud. Swing one leg forward and back, holding onto a wall or rail for balance, if needed. Maintain a smooth, controlled motion for 10 reps. Repeat with your other leg, and do two sets. You may also want to tack on side leg swings, which can further improve your range of motion in the hips, notes Kunz. For side leg swings, face a wall or pole for support while swinging one leg side-to-side in a controlled motion.
5. Arm Circles: 4 x 10 reps
Don’t overlook your upper body when getting ready to log miles. “Arm circles target your chest, shoulders, and upper back muscles, helping to increase blood flow and range of motion so you have better running form and less chances of injury,” says Kunz. To do arm circles, begin from a standing position with shoulders back. Raise your arms out straight from your sides with your palms facing down. Do 10 small forward arm circles and 10 large arm circles. Repeat in the opposite direction, completing two sets each.
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