This Running Warm-Up Will Prime Your Body for Your Next Workout

Mix these moves into your running warm-up routine, and you'll feel confident and ready to tackle your next jog, tempo run, or race.

Woman Doing Forward Lunge
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After spending your day cooped up in the office, it's tempting to skip a tedious warm-up, push through a few half-assed stretches, and head straight into your outdoor jog or treadmill sprints that make you feel alive again.

No matter how badly you want to pound the pavement, though, you shouldn't pass over your running warm-up routine, says Percell Dugger, C.S.C., C.F.S.C., a USATF-certified running coach and NIKE running coach. "Oftentimes, a common mistake that I see from a number of runners is that their warm-up is treated like a reluctant relationship — [it's] 'I'll get to it when I get to it,' or 'I won't even get to it at all,'" he says. "But in reality, if your warm-up is a good one, it's going to optimize your performance for your workout and reduce your risk of injury."

To help you create a running warm-up that's so valuable you won't even think about skipping it, Dugger shares the key types of movements to include in your pre-run routine, as well as visual demonstrations of his go-to exercises. And if you haven't gotten the memo yet, learn even more about why it's essential to utilize a running warm-up in the first place.

The Importance of a Running Warm-Up

You can think of a running warm-up as the appetizer you eat before the main course — it eases your body into activity soyou're better able to tackle the jog, run, or sprints to come, says Dugger. If you're resting on your couch then suddenly get up and go for a three-mile run without any acclimation period in between, there's a greater chance you'll suffer an injury, he explains. "You want to reduce or eliminate that risk of injury by priming your body for movement with a series of [exercises] that are not as intense as the actual workout but are setting you up for success," he adds.

To effectively prep your body, your running warm-up should generally focus on movements that increase tissue temperature and blood flow; encourage mobility in the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders; and alleviate tightness in areas such as the hamstrings, calves, and quads, says Dugger. Doing so will not only help minimize your odds of suffering an injury but also ensure you kick your workout off on a high note. "[A warm-up]helps you start your workout at an optimal state of performance so you're really feeling confident about what you want to do," he explains. "It's really hard to succeed if you don't feel confident in the state that you're walking into. Psychologically being able to go into a space with a level of readiness and confidence is just as important as the physical readiness and confidence." Not to mention, folks who do a warm-up before working out have been found to have higher levels of exercise-related enjoyment and motivation than folks who skip warm-ups, according to a small 2013 study.

Percell Dugger
Kamraan Husain

What Types of Moves to Include In a Running Warm-Up

When DIY-ing your own running warm-up, make sure you include these three types of movements in your routine, says Dugger.

Isometric Exercises

Whether you're running 200-meter sprints or a marathon, Dugger recommends incorporating isometric exercises into your running warm-up. ICYDK, isometric exercises involve holding still so there's no lengthening or shortening of the muscle. They allow you to specifically target and prepare one specific joint or muscle tissue for your run, says Dugger. "In the case of athletes, you might need a very specific area of your body trained or stimulated by the warm-up because it's been a recurring area of discomfort for you," he explains. "Isometrics are really great way to be super intentional and specific about a body part." For example, Dugger has recently been performing 30-second to 1-minute wall sits with his calves raised to strengthen and prepare his injured calves ahead of his workouts, he says.

Even if you're not currently dealing with pain or discomfort, you can still benefit from incorporating isometric movements into your running warm-up. "A lot of runners and athletes deal with weak hips, weak glutes, or weak hamstrings, and it's imperative to really have a strong posterior chain because that's essentially what drives your body to move forward and backward," he explains. Single-leg glute bridge holdsand single-leg Romanian deadlift holds utilize and strengthen all of those muscles, so performing them ahead of your run can help improve your performance, he says.


Along with isometric movements, your running warm-up should include plyometric exercises — but not the traditional burpees and box jumps, says Dugger. "Plyometrics are about reducing ground contact time," he explains. "So for a runner, plyometrics are your A skips, B skips, ankle hops, pogo jumps, C skips, and karaokes. Those things are improving the elasticity of your ankle and foot, as well as strengthening and preparing your calves, knees, and hips. [They give you the] elasticity that you need to be more reactive, reduce ground contact time, and be a quality runner."

The exercises you should focus on, however, depend on the type of run you'll be tackling. If you're a sprinter, for example, you might spend more time running strides, practicing driving your arms, and working through drills that help loosen up the shoulders, says Dugger. "Someone who's a sprinter, when they're only running for less than 10 seconds, needs all of their body — their arms, knees, and legs — to drive," he explains. "If I'm a distance runner, I'm probably not going to spend as much time driving my arms. I can shave a few seconds off my marathon time that way, but I'm not going to win or lose a marathon because of whether or not my arms are pumping [fast enough]."

Mobility Work

Finally, an effective running warm-up should train all three planes of motion: sagittal (forward and backward), coronal (side to side), and transverse (twisting), says Dugger. "Moving [this way] really allows you to prepare all of your different joints, as well as tissue, in all of the planes of motion that might be incorporated into your workout," he explains. Not to mention, improving your ability to move in all three planes can also reduce the risk of injury, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. That's why Dugger recommends incorporating forward, reverse, and lateral lunges, as well as a variety of stretches, into your running warm-up routine. "Anything that's going to get your tissue warmer and looser is going to be helpful," he adds.

6 Running Warm-Up Exercises to Do Before Your Workout

Not sure where to start with your own running warm-up? Try these moves, recommended and demonstrated by Dugger. They'll help prime your joints, loosen your tissue, and get your heart rate up so you can tackle your run with ease.

How it works: Do 1 to 3 sets of the following exercises for the recommended number of reps.

What you'll need: no equipment necessary


This move targets your ankles, knees, and hips, boosts your heart rate, and challenges your coordination and reaction time, says Dugger.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides and palms facing toward body. Raise right knee so it's in line with hips, right foot flat and facing the floor. Bring left hand up in front of chest, elbow bent and tucked at side.

B. Quickly drive left knee up to hips and right hand up to chest while lowering right foot back to the floor and right hand down to hips. Take one small hop on right foot. That's one rep.

Do 30 reps, alternating sides.

Alternating Scoops

Mix this movement into your running warm-up, and you'll loosen the tissue in your calves, hamstrings, shoulders, and back, says Dugger.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides and palms facing toward body.

B. Extend right leg out in front of body, heel resting on the floor and toes pointed toward body. Hinge at hips to lower chest and arms to the floor, then sweep both arms in front of right calf. Continuing this motion, sweeping arms all the way up to the ceiling while standing up out of the hip hinge.

C. Once standing, lower arms back to sides, step right foot back to meet left, and repeat on the opposite side.

Do 10 reps, alternating sides.

Bicycle Circuit

This movement will fire up your glutes, abductors, and core, says Dugger. Even though the exercise is weight-free, you'll surely feel the burn.

A. Lie on right side on the floor with legs bent at a 45-degree angle and feet, ankles, knees, and hips stacked. Allow right forearm to rest on the floor and place left hand on hip. This is the starting position.

B. Keeping feet together, lift hips up off the floor and press hips forward. Reverse the movement, pushing hips back and returning them to the floor. That's one rep. Do 10 reps.

C. With hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, drive left knee up to chest. Then, reverse the movement and bring left foot back to meet the right. That's one rep. Do 10 reps.

D. With hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, drive left foot back behind body and fully extend leg. Then, reverse the movement and bring left foot back to meet the right. That's one rep. Do 10 reps.

E. With hips lifted off the floor and pressed forward, lift left knee up toward the ceiling. Then, reverse the movement and bring left foot back to meet the right. Do 10 reps.

Switch sides; repeat the circuit.

Forward Lunge Twist and Reverse Lunge Reach

This running warm-up exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as primes your hip flexors and back for your upcoming cardio workout.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with left foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. While holding the lunge, bring hands to meet sides of head, elbows in line with shoulders, and twist trunk to the left. Reverse the movement to bring trunk back to center. Lower hands back to hips.

D. Push through middle of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a large step forward with right foot to do the next rep.

Do 10 reps, alternating sides.

E. From the forward lunge position, push through middle of right foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a large step backward with right foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

F. Remove hands from hips and extend arms over head and behind body, reaching for the wall behind. Reverse the movement and bring hands back to hips.

G. Push through mid-foot and heel of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then take a large step backward with left foot to do the next rep.

Do 10 reps, alternating sides.

Alternating Lateral Lunge

"This is a great movement to prep the hamstrings and glutes in the often overlooked frontal plane," says Dugger.

A. Stand with feet together, hands clasped in front of chest.

B. Take a large step out to the right and immediately sink hips back and bend right knee to lower into a lunge. Simultaneously, extend arms out in front of chest. Keep left leg straight but not locked, both feet pointing forward.

C. Push through right foot to straighten right leg, step right foot next to left, and return to the starting position.

Do 10 to 14 reps, alternating sides.

Standing Leg Swings

Practice this running warm-up movement, and you'll get your hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors loose and prepped for your jog, says Dugger.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides with right side of body about two feet away from a wall.

B. Place right hand on the wall, extend left arm out to side at shoulder height, and shift weight into left foot. This is the starting position.

C. Kick right foot behind body, then quickly swing it up in front of body as high as possible, simultaneously bringing left hand in front of body to touch toes.

D. Lower right foot down to the floor and extend left arm back out to side to return to the starting position. That's one rep.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

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