Why do I need to do a running warm-up?
Warming up prepares your body and mind for exercise. If you’ve been sat at your desk all day working or you’ve just got out of bed, your body isn’t ready to launch straight into a run.
Think of your muscles as being a piece of Blu Tack. When you first get it out of the packet, if you pull it, it snaps. But when you roll it in your hands and warm it up a bit, it becomes more stretchy and flexible. A warm-up works in exactly the same way for your body.
What are the benefits of a running warm-up?
- Increased body and muscle temperature
Your heart rate will increase slightly, increasing blood flow to the muscles. Your internal core temperature will also rise a bit. This means that more oxygen is able to get to your muscles, because it is more easily released by the haemoglobin molecules that carry it. Your muscles need more oxygen-rich blood to perform as you work harder.
- mental preparation
A warm-up is a great opportunity to get your head in the game. Whether it’s an easy run, a tough session or even a race, giving yourself a bit of time at the start to really focus on what’s coming next can help your enjoyment and performance.
- Reduced risk of injury
An injury as a runner can be devastating. Warming up improves muscle elasticity and allows for efficient cooling, which means there’s less chance of you overdoing it during your run.
- Improve your agility, balance and coordination
Including dynamic exercises into your warm-up is a good way to work on our agility, balance and co-ordination. These are all vital skills for runners and can be improved with regular practice.
What is a RAMP warm-up?
RAMP is an acronym that stands for Raise, Activate, Mobilise and Potentiate. These are the main components of a good running warm-up. We want to raise our heart rate and body temperature, activate our muscles and mobilize our joints.
You can think of potentiate as making your warm-up specific to the type of running that we’re going to be doing after it. If we want to get the full potential out of the session, we need to tailor our warm-up to it.
The more intense the session we’re about to do is, the more important it is to warm-up.
How to do a running warm-up
The first part of your warm-up should look a bit like the activity you’re about to participate in. For runners, that’s going to be 5 minutes of walking, brisk walking, or jogging – or a progression of all three.
You can then add in some dynamic exercises such as high knees, skipping and butt kicks.
Depending on the type of run you’re doing, there may be other elements to your warm-up that target the specific areas of your body that you’ll be using the most. If you’re doing speed work or intervals, for example, you might want to incorporate extra single-leg drills or movement preparation.
And remember, the more intense your run is going to be, the more thorough your warm-up should be. Sprinters may only race for 10 seconds, but they might spend half an hour or more warming up.
Do beginner runners need to do a running warm-up?
If you’ve just started running and are following a 0 to 5k plan, you still need to warm up before you get started on the running part of your workout. Don’t worry that a warm-up will leave you with less energy for your actual run, increasing the blood flow to your muscles will mean they find it a bit easier to get started.
Instead of running or jogging as part of your warm-up, you should stick to a brisk walking pace.
Do I need to stretch before a run?
You shouldn’t be doing static stretching (where you hold your muscles in a stretch position) before any runs as your muscles are too cold and you may damage them. (Remember that Blu Tack analogy above?) Save these for after your run as part of your cool down.
Instead you’re going to incorporate some dynamic exercises (sometimes called dynamic stretches) into your running warm-up. These are movements that involve a variety of actions to activate your muscles and mobilize joints.
5-minute dynamic warm-up sequence
Although it’s mostly the legs that bear the brunt of our runs, our arms are important too so we need to warm them up.
- Keep walking to keep your heart rate up.
- Start to make big circles with your arms (elbows straight).
- Begin with 10 forwards, then repeat with 10 backwards.
- Stand up tall with your hands on your hips.
- Keeping your keep on the floor, hip-distance apart, slowly trace big circles with your hips as though you have an invisible hula hoop.
- Complete 5 in one direction and then repeat in the opposite direction.
You can do this on the spot or moving forwards.
- In a standing position, at a walking pace, bring one knee up aiming to get it to hip height. Keep your ankle under your knee and toes pointing forward rather than down to the floor.
- Return your foot to the ground and raise the other knee up.
- Your arms should be by your sides with your elbows bent, moving as they do when you run.
- Repeat 10 times on each leg, then catch your breath and repeat.
- If you’re feeling more energetic, you can do this at a jogging pace.
Don’t worry if your knee doesn’t come all the way up to hip-height – go to the level that’s right for you.
- Stick one leg straight out in front of you with toes pointing up.
- Bend your back knee, sitting back with the hips as though you are about to sit on a chair.
- Reach both arms down to towards the ground in a slow sweeping motion, then reach forward from heel to toe. Keep moving upwards until you feel a stretch in the back of the outstretched leg.
- Repeat 10 times on each side, either alternating or one leg at a time.
- With both feet facing forwards, take a wide step to the right, bending your right knee.
- Send your hips backwards and shift your weight over your right foot, keeping your left leg straight. Keep your chest lifted, your back straight and your core engaged.
- Return to standing.
- Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.
What about after my run?
It’s just as important to cool down after you run. Walking or jogging for 5 minutes after your run will help bring your heart rate down gradually.
You should also incorporate some stretching into your cool-down. Try our Expert Guide to Stretching for Recovery.