Why you need a running warm up

running warm up the help reduce injury risk

Let’s be honest, when you head out for a run the last thing you really want to do is spend extra time on warming up first.

But in this article I hope to persuade you that the benefits of including a running warm up will far outweigh the potential pitfalls of heading out without one.

The reason why?

Over the years I’ve been training people there has been one common theme behind running based injuries and niggles…

They’ve not spent the time to prep their bodies using a run specific warm up before heading out to complete their workout.

And with a huge increase in the amount of people now heading out for a run as a way of staying fit and healthy since gyms were impacted by covid-19 the number of injuries people are picking up is no doubt on the rise too.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out on a Couch to 5K programme, if you’re training for a 10K or Half-Marathon or if you just run to blow of the cobwebs and wind-down after a stressful day.

The message is simple….

Warm up first or risk injury.

A warm up is designed to prepare the body for training or competition and can improve subsequent performance and lessen the risk of injury

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition.

A good running warm up should help to prepare both the body and mind before you head out for a training session or event.

The benefits of using a running warm up

  1. Increased muscle temperature & energy supply

Increased muscle temperature has been shown to help reduce stiffness in muscle fibres, allowing for greater movement capacity. The improved movement capacity helps to reduce stress on your muscles and joints when running.

Increases in muscle temperature are also linked to the vasodilation of blood vessels which allows blood to be circulated around the body at greater rates.

effects of warming up before running on the body

Some studies suggest that increased muscle tissue temperature can lead to double the amount of oxygen being transferred from haemoglobin to the working muscles compared to colder muscle tissue.

In simple terms, more oxygen can be delivered to the working muscles and your capacity to work is increased as there’s a more constant and efficient energy supply.

2. Increased joint mobility

Your body is a collection of joints, one stacked on top of the other. Each joint from the ankle all the way up to your jaw needs to be moving with good range for you to function effectively.

When running, our main focus is on the joints of the lower body, those being at the ankle, knee and hip. Ensuring that these areas are moving well before you head out for a run is going to be our key concern.

If you’re missing ankle range of motion, you have no choice but to compensate into an open foot position, meaning that you walk, run and move with open knees and collapsed ankles. When this happens you can’t expect everything to be okay.

Dr. Kelly Starret

3. Increased muscle force production

Every stride you take when out running requires a certain amount of force to be generated by your working muscles, not only does the force generated by muscles propel you forward it also helps to stabilize the joints of the lower body too.

When you begin to get tired and your force production drops technique beings to falter and injuries will become more prevalent.

Using a foam roller as part of your warm up not only helps to increase range of movement in the joints you’re about to use when running but has also been shown to increase the amount of force a muscle can generate too.

Later on in this article I’ll be sharing a foam rolling routine with you that can be used before each run that will take a matter of minutes to complete.

Making your running warm up specific

Every warm up should consider and include the movements and skills you’re about to use in your upcoming training session to ensure your body is ready and well drilled to help improve performance.

A simple breakdown of running technique will help you understand why certain warm up techniques and drills are important to use in your running warm up.

running technique biomechanics

Breaking down the running gait into simple movement biomechanics we have the following movements to consider…

The Ankle

ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion movement when running.

The Knee

knee flexion and extension movement when running.

The Hip

hip flexion and extension movement when running.

The question then is, how do you incorporate these movements into a running warm up that will help to improve your muscle temperature, joint mobility and force production to help you run more efficiently and reduce your risk of injury?

What makes a good running warm up?

For a long time stretching has been the catchall modality for warming up before exercise, and it’s often the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think about a warm up strategy before running.

But here’s the problem: stretching doesn’t work by itself.

A good warm up should allow you to improve the range of motion at the joints used in running whilst also teaching the muscles how to control and stabilise the joints too.

This is why stretching alone isn’t sufficient as it only creates one of the desired benefits needed.

To get the best from your running sessions we need to incorporate an approach that will deal with not only muscle tightness and range of movement but also factors in movement control too.

The best part about this is that it’s not as complicated as it might sound.

Here’s where to start…

Foam rolling

Using a foam roller will increase muscle tissue temperature whilst also breaking down the tightness (knots) that build up in your muscle tissues from previous runs or exercise sessions.

You should think about foam rolling like a cheap version of massage therapy that you can apply to yourself to help manage muscle tightness and significantly reduce your risk of injury when running.

The key goal of foam rolling is to start improving the length and pliability of your muscles and the tissues that surround them (myofascia) which means they can then be stretched and mobilised more effectively.

foam rolling helps to reduce muscle tightness before running.
image credit – www.rei.com

There are a myriad of foam rollers on the market you can buy, this option is a great starting point for beginners – Jordan Fitness Foam Roller

Here’s a short video clip where I’m going to guide you through the main areas to foam roll in your running warm up.

Dynamic stretching / mobility

Incorporating mobility and dynamic stretching into your running warm up routine prepares the joints, muscles and connective tissues of the body so that they are better equip for the stress they are about to be put under.

“Mobilisation is a tool for improving your capacity to move and perform efficiently”

Dr. Kelly Starrett

Dynamic stretching generally involves moving a limb through its full range of motion to the end ranges and repeating several times, this method of stretching has been shown to help increase range of motion in the muscles and joints.

It’s important to note here that you’ll get more benefit from your dynamic stretching and mobility drills if you foam roll first. This is because you’ll have already worked on warming up the muscle tissues and released any tight knots in the muscle fibres and connective tissues making the stretching action more effective.

For the dynamic stretches shown in the video above try using the following repetitions in your warm up;

  1. Downward Dog w/Ankle Mobility – 15 each side
  2. Kneeling Adductor Rock – 15 each side
  3. Runners Lunge w/Rotation – 5 each side

Skill Practice / Drills

Skill practice should form the last part of your pre-run warm up routine and is used to practice the mechanics of the running motion so that you can improve your levels of body control (neuromuscular stabilisation) and also start to pick up your heart rate before you get into a run.

Improving body control can reduce the incidence of non-contact injuries.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

For most people the toughest part of a run is the initial phase. When you first set out your heart rate starts to spike which makes finding a breathing pattern tricky…

Before heading out it can be helpful to bring your heart rate up, meaning that the spike is less aggressive and you can adapt quickly.

Below is a short video clip showing you 4 drills to incorporate into your running warm up.

For the drills shown in the video above try using these repetitions and times in your warm up;

  1. Invisible Jump Rope – 30 seconds
  2. Reverse Lunge Balance – 12 each side
  3. High Knees – 30 seconds
  4. Lateral Hop to Balance – 12 each side

After completing this warm up routine your body is going to be in a good position to head out there and make the most of your running session.

What next?

The most important thing to remember is that being able to run on a regular basis is where you’ll make progress, so ensuring you do everything to make this happen is key.

Building in time to warm up is a critical part of any good long-term training plan.

To make the whole process easier for you I’ve created the full running warm up into a guide for you to download and keep.

You can even complete the routines for foam rolling and dynamic stretching on your rest days too. This will help to continually improve your muscle tissue quality and joint range of motion.

But most importantly you need to imprint the quote below into your mind.

“Move First, Perform Second”

Dr. Aaron Horschig. The Squat Bible.
Get your own copy of The Running Warm Up Guide today...
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