The importance of a proper running warmup

A proper running warmup will reduce your risk of injury and improve your running performance.

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It can often be tempting to skip a proper warmup, while this saves time, it also increases your risk of injury. However, while skipping a warmup every now and then may not be the worst thing on the planet, it’s especially important not to skip a warmup if running intervals, a speed session, or a race.

So, why is this the case? Performing a proper warmup gradually increases our body temperature, heart rate, blood flow to the working muscles, and may even contribute to reduced muscle soreness before beginning your actual session or race – essentially enhancing performance.

As these sessions/races are often run at faster paces the likelihood of overtraining and or getting injured is higher than normal. Therefore, undergoing a thorough warmup before performing any of these is essential, especially if you value longevity in your running.

You likely have many questions, from why we need to warmup, how to warmup, and if you need to warmup before each and every run. This article will address these questions and more, putting the importance of the running warmup to bed for good.

Why do we need to warmup before running?

You should treat the warmup as preparation for the physical demand you’re about to put your body through. As mentioned previously, this is especially important if running an interval session, speed session, or running a race.

Related: What are the 8 different types of running workouts? 

There’s nothing worse than running with cold muscles, you don’t quite move properly, you feel a little stiff, and you’re wishing to be anywhere else but running.

However, it doesn’t end there. Running with cold muscles also increase your risk of injury, including muscle tears. Performing a proper warmup increases blood flow to these muscles – essentially reducing this risk massively.

We can’t stress this enough – especially in winter, undergoing an interval session, or running a race warming up beforehand should be non-negotiable. There should be no such thing as ‘showing up and running’, that is unless you want to get injured and not perform your best?

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Without further ado, let’s discuss how to warmup before running.

How to warmup before running

Warming up for a run is essentially like kick-starting both the cardiovascular system and the required muscles into gear. Much like a car, we must move through each of these gears to reach our top speed – it’s much better to warmup first than pay the consequences later.

So, how do we actually warmup before running?

While many think static stretches are the way forward, this is actually not the case. Instead, you want to undergo a slow and controlled 10-15 minute jog (max) followed up by some dynamic stretches.

In particular, dynamic stretches are focused on performing a constant movement whereas static stretches are focused on holding a stretch for a set period of time.

While static stretches lengthen the muscle, this is not essentially good for running. In fact, this may further increase our risk of injury. Dynamic stretches on the other hand help increase body temperature, range of motion, and overall muscle function.

Examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • High knees
  • Butt kicks
  • Leg swings
  • Walking lunges

As well as both a slow and controlled jog and various dynamic stretches, you may also benefit from performing a few strides. Running strides are short and fast bursts of speed for no more than thirty-five-seconds.

These strides are explosive and great for further warming up the body, excellent in transitioning from slow to quick and light on the feet running – essential to running fast.

However, static stretches do still have their place in your training. These should instead be done after a run as part of your running cool down – we will discuss more on this shortly.

Can I run without performing a proper warm up?

You can run without performing a running warmup, but this will ultimately increase your risk of injury and reduce performance. However, there is an exception to this.

There is little to no point in undergoing a warmup for runs such as the long-run or easy run. As these types of runs are generally ran at a much slower pace, the risk of injury is already much lower.

Nevertheless, we do still recommend performing some form of warmup regardless of the session you’re running. Dynamic stretches should suffice – especially for these longer efforts and much easier efforts.

These can easily be done in five-minute or less, the perfect amount of time to obtain GPS signal on your watch or to think through your route.

What about a cool down?

Much like a running warmup, performing a proper cool down, more so for faster sessions and races is highly important. A cool down is a chance to lower your heart rate, breathing rate, and to reduce our muscles to their optimal tension length. This ultimately reduces our risk of injury while also decreasing our recovery time between runs.

However, how do you actually perform a proper running cool down?

Much like a running warmup, this can be as simple as a slow and controlled ten to fifteen-minute jog but instead followed up by some static stretching. This will reduce pain, increase flexibility, release stress and tension out of the muscles and allow us to disconnect from our run ready to transition into the next part of our day.

To summarise the importance of a running warmup

Performing a proper running warmup prepares our body for the intense activity to follow. This increases our running efficiency, reduces our risk of injury, and even improves performance for our actual run.

So, before a run, especially an interval session, speed session or race we recommend the following:

  • A 10-15 minute easy jog
  • Dynamic stretching (think high knees, walking lunges, and leg swings)
  • To avoid static stretches until after your run

To finish

The running warmup is often underestimated, many runners see it as unnecessary and a waste of time. However, this is not the case. A proper running warmup will increase performing, improve running efficiency and reduce your risk of injury amongst other things.

With that being said, it’s also important to include a cool down after a hard run or workout – once again increasing your risk of injury and reducing recovery time between sessions.

Should I warmup before a run?

Yes, you should warmup before a run especially if performing a speed/interval session or running a race.

Can I warmup without running?

Whilst we do recommend a slow jog, dynamic stretches are also an important part of a proper running warmup. If you're really not keen on running before actually running, at the very least we suggest performing some dynamic stretches.

Is it necessary to warm up?

Warming up before a run will reduce your risk of injury and improve performance. But, if performing a long or easy run then warming up to the same extent may not be as necessary.

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