The Perfect 5-Minute Dynamic Warm-Up to Do Before Your Next Run

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Doing a dynamic warm-up before your run may help reduce your risk of injury and might give you a boost in performance.
Image Credit: Claire Hsing/LIVESTRONG.com

When you've got only so much time to squeeze a run into your day, it can feel like an internal battle to use some of those precious minutes for a warm-up.

But carving out some time to warm up before you hit the ground running is an important piece of the puzzle. Think of your warm-up as the pre-heat setting on your oven. It sets the scene for your body, so it won't come as a complete shock when you take off from zero to 100.

Here's why you should never skip a dynamic warm-up before a run and the perfect five-minute routine to try.

What Exactly Is a Dynamic Warm-Up?

A dynamic warm-up involves movements that closely replicate the demands of the exercise you're about to do. Compared to static stretching, dynamic stretching better prepares muscle tissue for bearing load in specific motions, such as running. (Static stretching is meant to induce some change in muscle length and is best for post-workout recovery.)

When you're warming up before a run, your dynamic warm-up should include exercises like a walking high knee, which mimics the act of running more than standing still and hugging the knee to the chest for a few seconds at a time.

Try This 5-Minute Dynamic Running Warm-Up

Whether you're a runner who hasn't yet incorporated a specific warm-up regimen or are looking to refresh your existing routine, consider introducing this dynamic warm-up to help you prepare for your next run.

Tip

If you’re interested in a warm-up tailored to your specific running goals, consider hiring a certified run coach or trainer to help you come up with an individual plan.

Move 1: Walking High Knees

Reps 20
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing and step your right leg forward and drive your left knee up towards your chest.
  2. Pressing your right foot firmly on the ground, step forward with the left leg and repeat the motion.
  3. Repeat for a fixed distance of 10 meters or 10 reps per leg.

Move 2: Walking Single-Leg Deadlift

Reps 20
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing and take a step forward with your right leg.
  2. Maintaining a flat back and a soft bend in the knee, hinge forward at the right hip, allowing your left leg to shoot behind you. Keep your hips square throughout the entire movement to avoid rotating the pelvis and torso.
  3. Squeeze your right glute to bring your torso back into an upright position and your left leg forward to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the opposite leg for a fixed distance of 10 meters or 10 reps per leg.

Move 3: Walking Lunge and Twist

Reps 20
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing and step forward with your right leg. Lower into a lunge with control, forming 90-degree angles with both knees.
  2. At the bottom of the lunge, twist your torso to each side, initiating the movement from the mid-back as opposed to rotating the pelvis or hips.
  3. Press your right foot firmly on the ground to stand upright and step forward with the left foot.
  4. Repeat for a fixed distance of 10 meters or 10 reps per leg.

Move 4: A Skip

Reps 20
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing and take a step forward with your right leg.
  2. Immediately drive your left knee up toward your chest. Keeping your right leg straight, push off with your calf muscles to skip.
  3. Land your left foot softly back to the ground and straighten the leg before you drive your right knee up toward your chest. Push off with your calf muscles to skip.
  4. Repeat for a fixed distance of 10 meters or 10 reps per leg.

Tip

This movement requires some coordination, so if it feels challenging, consider first performing walking high knees while pushing up on the toes in between each step.

Move 5: B Skip

Reps 20
Region Full Body
  1. Start standing and step your right leg forward.
  2. Drive your left knee up toward your chest. Keeping your right leg straight, push off with your calf muscles to skip.
  3. As your left thigh reaches waist height, powerfully extend the leg down, using the coordinated extension from your knee and hip, and pull it back behind you. It should feel like you are wiping the bottom of your shoe on the ground, or pulling the ground back behind you as if you're on a treadmill.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side and continue skipping for a fixed distance of 10 meters or 10 reps per leg.

Tip

Together, these last two exercises help put the individual movements together to exaggerate the motion of running. The B Skip takes the previous A Skip and adds a powerful "pawback" of the foot from a more explosive hip extension and knee flexion movement. As a result, it may be challenging to perform this well until you perfect the A Skip.

The Benefits of a Dynamic Warm-Up Before a Run

Doing a dynamic warm-up before a run offers a bounty of benefits: injury risk management, improved blood flow and better recruitment of muscles, among others.

You May Reduce Your Risk of Injury

Perhaps the most important reason to warm up is that it can mitigate the risk of overuse injury. Because running is a high-impact sport dominated by the same repetitive movement, you're at a higher risk of developing overuse injuries compared to another sport with more varied motion.

In contrast to an acute injury, which is often related to a singular traumatic event, like an ankle sprain, overuse or chronic injuries develop gradually over time, and are often the result of poor load management and/or improper body mechanics while performing a given task.

Think you're safe from this? An October 2012 systematic review in Sports Medicine found that chronic, overuse injuries accounted for approximately 80 percent of running injuries.

Some common overuse injuries associated with running include patellofemoral pain syndrome, aka runner's knee (pain in the front of the knee or kneecap), and medial tibial stress syndrome, aka shin splints (pain along the shin bone), according to the Mayo Clinic.

Overuse injuries are not limited to bone and joint pain, however, and the classic muscle strain is also an injury risk to consider, particularly if you ramp up your runs too quickly.

An August 2010 review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports suggests that some dynamic stretching before exercise may help reduce the incidence of muscle strains.

You Might Improve Your Performance

While the research connecting warm-ups and performance is mixed, there is some data that shows that a good dynamic warm-up may give you a little more pep in your step.

According to a January 2016 review in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, dynamic stretching showed greater performance benefits than static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), a form of rehabilitative stretching.

And in a January 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, performing just 1 to 2 sets of 14 reps of active dynamic stretches before a run enhanced sprint performance. But as the study points out, doing anything more than the recommended two sets of dynamic stretches can be detrimental.

While the physiological mechanism for how a dynamic warm-up affects performance is still being debated and isn't well-defined by current research, there are a variety of explanations for how it could work.

A February 2018 review in Sports Medicine highlights how dynamic stretching has a temperature and potentiation effect, which means that the muscle unit is literally "warmed" and primed for exercise. Plus, rehearsing specific movement patterns is believed to improve coordination and thus, performance.

So, Why These Exercises?

How do you decide what to emphasize in a dynamic warm-up? Running is fundamentally a series of bounds — taking off from one leg and landing on the other. This means your glutes, quads and calf muscles work together in a coordinated extension from the hip and knee down to the ankle, translating into a powerful take off to propel you forward.

While a powerful takeoff is important for performance, the landing part of running is where there's room for error that can lead to injury. A safe landing requires some large leg muscles to be active while they lengthen. For example, when you are walking down a flight of stairs, your quads have to control your descent (and prevent you from tumbling down!).

Good knee alignment is another trait of a safe landing, largely controlled by the lateral hip muscles, like the gluteus medius. This muscle plays a big role in maintaining the knee's position over the foot. Without it, the knee will often cave inward, which can put increased, unnecessary stress on the knee joint and its supporting structures just as it's performing this crucial shock-absorption role.

With these thoughts in mind, the exercises listed here focus on first activating the glutes, quads and calves, then coordinating them all together to optimize the movements critical to good running mechanics.

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