Running your best starts with your warm-up. So, it’s important to get it right.
Many runners were taught to warm up for a run with static stretching, like a seated hamstring stretch or a kneeling hip flexor stretch. Static stretches might loosen your muscles and make you feel warm, but there’s a better way to get ready for your run.
Wes Miller, a licensed physical therapist at Antifragile Physical Therapy, says there isn’t solid evidence that stretching before a run improves performance. Instead, you should prep your muscles with a dynamic warm-up.
Dynamic warm-ups activate the same muscles you use when you run to move blood through them, encourage neurological relaxation and improve range of motion, Miller says.
Doing a dynamic warm-up is especially important for runners who log miles shortly after waking up or after a long day of sitting at a desk. Think of your body like a car on a cold day: Long periods of inactivity cause your muscles and tendons to tighten, and they need some time to get ready to hit the road. A proper warm-up will loosen and lengthen the systems needed to move more effectively, leading to a more efficient run.
Here are six moves Miller recommends as part of an effective dynamic warm-up for running. Do six to 10 reps of each exercise:
1. Squats with arms extended. Start from a standing position with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and hold your arms out straight in front of you. Begin the move by bending your knees and extending your backside out like you’re going to sit in a chair. Drop down as far as is comfortable, then return to standing. (Tip: Make sure your knees track directly over your toes. Pushing your knees in or out puts unnecessary strain on the joint.)
2. Leg swings. There are two types of swings that will get you loose for running: front-to-back swings and side-to-side swings.
Forward and backward: Stand within arms length of a wall, fence or other object to brace yourself. Turn your body so your shoulders are perpendicular to the wall, and use your hand to the wall for balance. In a smooth motion, swing your foot out in front of you and then behind for one rep. Form isn't all that important; swing your legs in a way that feels most comfortable.
Side to side: Like the forward-and-backward leg swings, you’ll need a wall or other sturdy object to aid your balance. This time, face the wall, and extend your hands in front of you to steady yourself. To begin the movement, pick up your right foot and swing it out to the right, then back through the starting position and out to the left to complete one rep.
3. Walking reverse lunge. Start in a standing position with good posture. Step one foot backward and drop your back knee toward the ground, putting about half your body weight on your back foot (not your knee!). Raise your hands above your head as you lower into the lunge. Pause for a moment as the bottom of the lunge, then push off your front foot to return to a standing position. Repeat on each side.
4. Lateral lunge and lean. Begin in a standing position. Step one foot out to the side and slightly forward, and lean over into a lunge, placing about 70 percent of your body weight into the move. Drop down into the lunge as far as is comfortable, and then press off the foot back into a standing position. Alternate sides. (To modify: Take shorter steps out to the side, and don’t drop down as much.)
5. High knees. Stand tall to begin the move. Initiate the motion by leaning forward and then driving one knee up at a time. Focus on making light, quick taps on the ground with your feet.
6. Jumping jacks. Do some jumping jacks to get your heart rate up.