Do I really need to warm-up?
Trust me, I get it…sometimes it’s hard enough getting out of a warm bed in the morning and getting yourself out the door to run. Adding an additional pre-run warm-up routine can seem like overkill!
As much as we don’t want to spend any extra time prepping for a run, a quick warm-up routine provides numerous benefits that are too good to skip out on. Research has shown that a targeted 5-minute warm-up routine can decrease injury risk, improve running economy, and even make your run feel easier. Why wouldn’t you want these boosts in performance for all of your runs?
How does a warm-up help?
A warm-up quite literally works by increasing your body’s core temperature. This increase in core body temperature will also increase the temperature and blood circulation to the muscles of your legs. This improved blood flow and muscle temperature will reduce muscle tension and muscle resistance thus improving muscle contraction, speed, and force. When a warm-up is performed correctly, it will also activate your nervous system and thus improve muscle coordination. By reducing muscle tension and improving muscle function, you drastically reduce the risk of injuring your muscles, tendons, or joints.
The benefits don’t stop there. Due to the improved muscle contraction and nervous system coordination, you will experience a boost in running economy. This means that your muscles will require less energy to run at a specific pace resulting in an improvement in performance. Recent studies have supported these claims by showing significant improvements in running economy and running performance following a short warm-up. In addition to boosting your running economy, other studies have shown that an adequate warm-up makes your run feel easier than without performing a warm-up. A 2021 study showed that runners who warmed-up prior to running reported a significant reduction in perceived effort while running. Who wouldn’t want to run faster and feel better doing it?
What is the best way to warm-up?
Static stretching is widely used during warm-up routines for runners before heading out on the road. Static stretching is performed by stretching a muscle as far as possible and holding for a prolonged period of time, typically 30 seconds or longer. Unfortunately, research has shown that this particular type of stretch can actually negatively impact muscle function. Multiple studies have shown that performing static stretching during warm-ups impairs running performance, running economy, and can reduce maximal voluntary muscle strength and muscle power.
Instead of warming-up with static stretching, a dynamic warm-up routine has proven to provide the most benefits prior to exercise. A dynamic warm-up includes actively and quickly stretching a muscle without a prolonged hold or over-pressure. This quick stretch/movement activates muscle spindles which in turn stimulates the nervous system, along with promoting blood flow to the activated muscle.
It is recommended that a dynamic warm-up is performed after a few minutes of light jogging. With just a 5-10 minute routine, you can get all of the benefits on your next run.
I teamed up with Dave Welsh, owner of the South Jersey Running Company and US Indoor Masters Champion in the Mile, to show you our preferred dynamic warm-up routine before jumping into a workout. Take a look at this video to check it out.
(PS if you like the scenery in the video you have to check out the new track at the Camden Athletic Complex!!)
Mark and Dave’s Dynamic Warm-up Routine:
- Lateral Band Walks: Using a resistance band placed around your ankles or knees, stand in an athletic position and step to the side 10x and then step back to the starting position. This is used to activate the small muscles of the lateral glute that stabilize and keep your pelvis level while you run.
- Hamstring Scoops: Straighten your leg and flex your foot towards you. Bend your trunk towards the ground and “scoop” your hands around your foot and return to standing. Perform on your opposite leg. Perform 10x each leg. This quick and dynamic stretch activates your hamstrings and calf muscles.
- Controlled Marching into Stride: Stand tall and bring one knee up so that your thigh is parallel to the ground. Return your leg to the ground and perform on the opposite leg. (Make sure to swing your arms with the movement). Perform 10x each leg and transition into a stride. This drill focuses on activating your hip flexor muscles.
- Dynamic Marching into Stride: This drill is the same as the previous drill, but this time you are switching your leg before your opposite leg returns back to the ground. Perform 10x each leg and transition into a stride. This drill again activates the hip flexors but now engages the glutes and calf muscles.
- “Buttkickers” into Stride: Start by actively bringing your foot towards your bottom. While your foot returns to the starting position, bring your opposite foot towards your bottom. Perform 10x each leg and transition into a stride. This drill will activate your quadriceps muscle on the front of your thigh.
- B Skips into Stride: Start by bringing your leg up as stated in the dynamic marching drill. This time as you return your foot towards the ground, kick your foot away from your body as if you are trying to scrape the ground with your foot. Perform 10x each leg and transition into a stride. This drill is used to activate your hamstring muscles on the back of your thigh.
Faelli et. al. 2021. The Effect of Static and Dynamic Stretching during Warm-Up on Running Economy and Perception of Effort in Recreational Endurance Runners. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8391672/
Fradkin et. al. 2010. Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2010/01000/effects_of_warming_up_on_physical_performance__a.21.aspx
Herman et. al. 2012. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-10-75
Young WB 2007. The use of static stretching in warm-up for training and competition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19124908/#:~:text=Static%20stretching%20(SS)%20is%20widely,of%20optimal%20warm%2Dup%20protocols.