Before you hop out the door and start running like the flash – stop and consider warming up! Warm up’s are vital to prevent injury and ensure you have a good training session or race. Think of it as something that should be part of your running routine everytime you step outside ready to run hard.

Warm Up Phase #1 – Raise your Heart Rate

The first phase of the warm up should always be about raising your heart rate in order to get the blood flowing around your body to prepare yourself for exercise. Execute this phase of the warm up by jogging at a leisurely pace which feels comfortable – in heart rate terms, no higher than 70% of your max heart rate ideally. You don’t want to tire yourself out, so make sure the pace is easy to maintain. Alternatively, you can perform any other type of aerobic exercise which is easily maintainable – the goal is simply to raise your pulse.

This will get the kick start your body’s physiological systems – your blood vessels will dilate to allow for increased transport of blood and therefore oxygen which will allow the mitochondria in your muscles to release energy in muscular contractions to run fast!

It will also take your arms and most importantly, legs through the running motion without placing too much stress on the tendons, bones and ligaments in your legs before they are fully prepared.

Breathing rate will increase as your body starts to prepare itself for exercise and hormones will start to be released such as adrenaline to get yourself physiological system ready to perform.

Your body and muscle temperature rise – warm muscles are able to contract and relax quicker allowing for faster contractions and reduced risk of overstretching. Warm muscles are also more elastic which can enhance speed as well as the strength of contractions.

The temperature of your blood also increases, allowing for oxygen to bind more readily to haemoglobin in the blood which potentially means more oxygen can get transported to your muscles allowing for more energy to be released during respiration in the muscles.

Another benefit of this stage of the warm up, especially for races is that it can provide mental or psychological benefits. The warm up jog can help you to focus on your goals for the race or what you want to achieve in the training session by allowing you to review the training you’ve put in before a race or tactics and strategies you wish to implement in a race or even try out in training.

In addition, a warm up will help to activate heat dissipation mechanisms during your run which will help to keep your core temperature cool in order to avoid overheating. Think of it as preparing your sweat glands to take action before exercise in order to cool you down once the running gets tough!

To sum up the main points, a pulse raising warm up will enable:

  • Dilation of blood vessels
  • Increased range of motion
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased blood temperature
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased muscle temperature
  • Pre-activation of the body’s cooling systems
  • Mental preparation

How long should my warm up be?

How long you spend in phase 1 of the warm up depends on various factors such as your level of fitness, how long you have been running for and the intensity of your warm up. In general, I’d say most people don’t need to spend any longer than 20 minutes in this phase of the warm up. Run for up to 20 minutes at no higher than 70% of your max heart rate or VO₂ max at a steady pace.

Warm Up Phase #2 – Strides

Another essential part of the warm up for runners is strides. Try and always do a minimum of 2 strides but aim for 4 – 6 strides up to 100m long. The idea is to run at a fast pace that feels comfortable for a short period of time to prepare your body to run fast – usually this means trying to at least get up to race pace during the strides or training pace for whatever speed you will need to try and run at i.e. 400m in 60 seconds so during 4 x 100m strides get up to 15 second pace for even say 20m of the duration of the stride. They can also be done on an incline (as pictured above) as long as you aren’t exerting yourself too hard and can get up to a good speed.

Strides help to get blood really flowing to the muscles where oxygen is required and encourage the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibres (the muscle fibres that let you run faaaaasssstttt!

During the strides:

  • Gradually accelerate so you reach your top stride pace at around 50-60m.
  • Hold this pace up to 100m.
  • Slowly decelerate back to a slow pace or a stop.
  • Jog 100m, walk back or shake your legs out a bit before starting your next stride.

Don’t stress about the length or exact speed your stride is at, but don’t hold a stride for longer than is comfortable which tends to be maximum 30 seconds.

Whilst doing strides, it is a good idea to focus on your running form. Try and keep your body upright, ensure your arms are swinging forwards and backwards – not side to side like a skier and keep your core tight. Although these are called strides take care not to overstride – ensure that your feet are landing underneath your hips and not in front of your hips as this is inefficient and will only increase your risk of injury.

Warm Up Phase #3 – Running Drills

The final phase of the warm up is running drills. These are a good way to activate all the muscle groups you will be using during your run and helps loosen up your muscles further, increase blood flow and increase your heart rate and body temperature to an appropriate level before starting your run. Try to make sure everything is dynamic (with movement) and in order to avoid pulling a muscle, start with drills that have a smaller range of motion before proceeding onto drills with a large range of motion.

Try out these warm up drills to get you started:

  • Hamstring Walks – placing one leg in front of the other, keep your front leg straight at a 45 degree ankle bringing your arms down from behind your front leg and try and touch your foot whilst raising your hands back up. Keep the movement controlled.
  • Side Steps – whilst facing sideways, move or ‘shuffle’ your feet quickly so that they are almost touching before your other foot moves away. Try to land with a flat foot or towards your heels in order to activate the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Knee Pulls – each step, raise one knee and take hold of it with both hands before pulling it upwards gently.
  • Backwards Jogging – over 100m, start by jogging backwards, slowly extending your stride until around 50m where you are no longer jogging, but running backwards. Each time you bring your leg back you should essentially be kicking it right out behind you.
  • Carioca (aka vine weave) – whilst shuffling sideways e.g. in the right direction, place your right foot down and move your left foot behind your right foot, then place your right foot down and move your left foot in front of your right foot. Repeat for up to 50m in one direction before doing the exercise in the opposite direction. To increase activation of the groin muscle (hip adductors), whilst bringing your leg in front of the other, raise your leg higher so the motion is as if you are closing a gate.
  • A-Skips – in a skipping motion everytime your foot hits the floor, bring your opposite knee up as high as you can (ideally near your chest). Ensure that your form is good and you aren’t jerking forwards with each skip.
  • B-Skips – similar to A-skips except that each time you bring your knee up, kick your leg out so that when your foot comes back it scrapes the ground. Keep a tight core to avoid moving your torso forwards (it should be straight).
  • High Knees – for 20-50m accelerate each knee upwards past your hip focusing on landing flat and keeping knee movement fast.

What to Avoid in the Warm Up

  • Staying still for too long – if this is done then it can negate some of the effects of your warm up, so if you have to wait a while before your race due to a delay or having to get to the start early try jumping or doing high knees on the spot to keep the blood pumping. Avoid staying still by timing your warm up so that you get to the start of your race 5 – 15 minutes before the start.
  • Doing too much – this can mean easier overexerting yourself during the drills, strides or doing the initial jog at an intensity that is too high or doing one of the phases of the warm up for too long. This can lead to fatigue before a race which is not what you want if you plan on running fast.
  • Static stretching – research has shown that static stretching within running tends to hamper running performance rather than enhance it decreases muscular strength and muscular explosive performance.

What’s your warm up routine like? Let me know down below!