Warm up exercises for runners
Page last updated: 5th May 2023
Going for a run? Try to avoid rushing into your miles and instead spend some time warming up after you lace up. Learn more about why a running warm-up is so important, as well as how to warm up for maximum performance with this guide.
Do I need to warm up before running?
A pre-run warm-up is an essential element of a successful and safe running experience as it prepares your body physically and mentally for the activity you’re about to do. We would recommend that you never go for any kind of run without including some kind of warm-up session first.
In fact, you should be warming up before any kind of exercise or workout - we have a guide to warming up for a gym workout here if you’d like to learn more. Similarly, you should always include stretches after you exercise - learn more about cooldowns here or check out our guide to post-run stretches here.
Why is a warm-up so important for runners?
Warming up for running helps prime your body ready for activity, by increasing your heart rate and the blood flow to your muscles. You’ll also find it will help to loosen up your muscles, tendons and ligaments, improving flexibility and range of motion. Not only will this reduce the chance of injury, but it will also help to minimise muscle soreness and stiffness after your run. Your muscles will also be more likely to perform at their best, meaning you can expect a more effective and enjoyable run.
How to warm up for a run
There are a few different approaches you can take with your running warm-up, and we recommend the following steps each time. Gradually increase the intensity of the exercise, so you can gently build up your heart rate.
- A brisk walk, building to a light jog: as tempting as it may be to just start immediately running at your ideal pace, it’s best to start your warm-up with around 5 - 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise. Try walking, brisk walking or jogging, or, ideally, a progression through all of these.
- Dynamic stretching: unlike static stretches, which involve holding a stretch in one position, dynamic stretches move through a range of motion. This not only prepares the muscle but also improves flexibility ahead of your run.
- Joint mobility: focus on circling key joints like your ankles, hips and knees, to loosen up your joints and avoid injury from the impact of your run.
Which muscles need warming up before a run?
When warming up for any kind of exercise, you need to consider which muscles you’ll be using most throughout the session and make sure these are warmed up before you start.
Key muscles to warm up ahead of a run include:
- Leg muscles: including your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes
- Core muscles: the abs and lower back in particular are important for stability and posture while running
- Arm muscles: upper body muscles like the shoulders, chest and arms help to maintain balance and rhythm during your run
- Hip muscles: particularly the hip flexors and abductors, which help you to keep up a good running form
Which joints need warming up before a run?
Running is a high-impact exercise form, which means it can put pressure on your joints. Warming them up effectively will help to prevent sprains and strains, reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.
Joints to focus on in your warm-up include:
- Ankles: these will absorb a lot of the impact of your run and provide stability as you move
- Knees: one of the joints that are most susceptible to soreness, especially for beginner runners
- Hips: crucial for flexibility and range of motion
- Shoulders: not an obvious one, but your shoulders are important for posture and balance
Four dynamic pre-run warm-up stretches to try
These four simple stretches will touch on all of your key muscles before you set off on your next run. Complete all four running warm-up drills and you’ll be limbered up and ready for your session.
Perform each exercise for approximately 30 seconds.
- Hamstring Scoops
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Extend one foot out in front of you, hinging slightly at the hips and allowing a soft bend in the back leg. From this position, reach your arms downwards towards the front foot. Before they touch the floor, scoop your arms upwards towards the ceiling. Try to keep a straight back throughout the movement. Repeat with the other leg.
- Frog Squat Stretch
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach down and grab your toes whilst keeping your legs and back as straight as possible, and shifting your hips back. Sink into a deep squat position or to a range that is comfortable for you, Push your bum back up towards the ceiling before straightening your legs and returning to standing.
- Standing Knee Hugs
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lift one leg off the ground and hug the knee in towards your chest, whilst maintaining balance. Hold for one second. Release the leg back down and repeat on the other side.
- Hip Rotators
If you’re running on a treadmill at the gym then perform these on all fours on a mat - if you’re outside you can simply do these from a standing position. If on a mat, start with hands placed directly under your shoulders and knees in line with your hips. Lift one knee off the ground and draw imaginary circles with the lifted knee whilst trying to keep your hips square. Draw some circles in a backwards direction before moving in a forward direction. After 30 seconds of this, repeat with the other leg for 30 section.
Have you started taking up running quite recently?
Check out our answers to some of the most popular running questions, with tips from British distance athlete Charlotte Arter, and find more great tips to help you become a better runner over on our Running Exercises hub here.