Your Guide to the Perfect Warm-Up

The warm-up is perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of running by many of us. But it is actually a hugely important habit to develop as a runner.
Here’s what you need to know.


Why is the warm-up so important?

There are numerous benefits to warming up before you start your session. Here are some of the advantages you can get from a warm-up: 
  • Warming up increases your heart rate and gets your joints moving
    This is the perfect preparation for your workout and will make your training feel easier and more comfortable.
  • Warming up increases your body temperature
    This promotes the flow of synovial fluid, which cushions your joints and helps reduce friction. Synovial fluid also makes your muscles more pliable, reducing the risk or straining or tearing.
  • Warming up diverts blood flow from your internal organs to your muscles
    This brings oxygen and nutrients to your metabolism, while carrying away waste products.
  • Warming up can help you focus
    Use your warm up to prepare mentally for your training.
    Think about what you’re going to do in the session and focus on your goals.

Where does stretching fit in?

The current thinking on stretching suggests that, as long as it’s done carefully, and after a thorough warm up or at the end of a run, it can help to protect your body from the impact of running on the road, while reducing muscle soreness and the risk of injury to muscles, joints and tendons.

How do I warm up?

Here’s a breakdown of the perfect warm up for a runner. Steps one and two are general warm up exercises, great for any work out, and steps three to six are specially tailored for runners:

  1. Get your joints moving

    Although running is mainly a lower body activity, it’s important you don’t have tension or stiffness in other parts of your body when you start to run.
    Begin your warm up by getting the major joints in your body moving, for example, the neck, shoulders, waist, hips, knees and ankles. Keep your movements gentle and controlled. Circle, bend and extend your joints but avoid swinging them.
  2. Go for a walk

    Start walking, either on the spot or moving forward, and gradually increase your speed and range of movement until you break into a slow jog. This doesn’t need to be too taxing but should leave you feeling slightly warm and breathless.
  3. Hamstring swings

    This exercise is great for warming up your hamstrings because it puts the muscles through a range of movements without the impact of running on the road.
    Stand side on to a wall for support, and with the knee bent, lift one leg to hip height. Swing the leg up, down and back in a circular motion, so the leg is almost fully extended at the end of the back swing. Repeat this 10 to 20 times for each leg, increasing the movement and speed as you go. Although this exercise uses a swinging motion, make sure you keep your movements controlled throughout.
  4. Reverse walking

    Walking backwards can improve your coordination and also activates the gluteal muscles, which are important for stabilising your pelvis as you run.
    As you take each step backwards, take the foot across the centre line of your body, so it moves slightly across the front foot. Do four to six backwards steps, repeated eight times.
  5. Prone kicks

    Prone kicks are great if you suffer with knee problems, because like hamstring swings they’re low impact. This exercise also gets the synovial fluid flowing, helping to protect your knees from injury.
    Lie face down on the floor, with your arms folded so you can rest your forehead on them, and your stomach gently pulled in. Bring one foot up towards your buttocks and as you lower it back to the floor, bring your other foot up towards the buttocks at the same time. Start this exercise slowly and gradually speed up, without letting your pelvis to rock from side to side. Kick for timed periods of one to two minutes, or in groups of 120 kicks.
  6. Short runs

    Finish your warm up with a few short runs (about 25m in length), accelerating from a slow start to a brisk pace.