6 Running Warm-Up Exercises and the Benefits of Running Warm-Ups

Mix these moves into your running warm-up routine, and you'll feel confident and ready to tackle your next jog, tempo run, or race.

Despite the strong urge to dive straight into your post-office run or quick treadmill sprint, it's unwise to disregard a proper running warm-up. A holistic warm-up routine is a crucial component of your run, notes Percell Dugger, C.S.C., C.F.S.C., a certified running coach with USATF and NIKE. He observes that many runners often neglect their warm-up, treating it as an optional part rather than an integral one. However, if appropriately executed, a warm-up can significantly enhance your workout performance and minimize potential injuries. Dugger provides insights on the essential movements that should be incorporated in your pre-run schedule and provides practical demonstrations of his preferred exercises. If you're yet to understand the critical role of a running warm-up, this information will surely enlighten you. Start thinking of your warm-up routine as a non-negotiable part of your running workout for optimum results.

The Importance of a Running Warm-Up

A running warm-up can be likened to the starter course before a main meal — it gently eases your body into physical activity, thereby better preparing you for an ensuing jog, run or sprint, according to Dugger. Without a suitable adjustment period between resting and intense physical activity, such as instantly embarking on a three-mile run from a sedentary position on your couch, you might be at a higher risk of sustaining injuries, he elaborates. "By engaging in a series of less-intense exercises that prime your body for movement, you can minimize or even eliminate injury risks, setting yourself up for success," Dugger adds. Your running warm-up should focus primarily on exercises that enhance blood flow and tissue temperature, promote mobility in areas like hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders, and relieve tension in parts such as hamstrings, calves, and quads, advises Dugger. This approach not only helps lower your likelihood of getting injured but also ensures you commence your workout at peak performance. "[Warm-ups] boost your confidence about your desired goals, making you feel optimally prepared for your impending workout," he explains. "If you lack confidence about what you're going to do, achieving success becomes difficult. Being psychologically ready and confident is as important as being physically ready and confident." Moreover, people who warm up prior to exercising reportedly derive more enjoyment and motivation from their workouts compared to those who don't warm up, as revealed by a compact 2013 study.

What Types of Moves to Include In a Running Warm-Up

When DIY-ing your own running warm-up, make sure you include these three types of movements in your routine, says Dugger.

Isometric Exercises

Irrespective of your run's length, from 200-meter sprints to marathons, the inclusion of isometric exercises in your pre-running routine is recommended by Dugger. If you're unfamiliar with the term, isometric exercises involve maintaining a static position without any contraction or extension of the muscle. This enables you to concentrate on and ready a specific muscle or joint for your run. "For athletes, there might be a need to warm-up a particular area of the body that's been causing discomfort. Isometrics offer an excellent way to intentionally focus on that part," explains Dugger. For instance, to fortify and condition his injured calves for his workouts, Dugger has been doing wall sits with elevated calves for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Even without existing pain or discomfort, integrating isometric movements in your running warm-up can still be beneficial. "Many runners and athletes struggle with weak hips, glutes, or hamstrings. Having a strong posterior chain is crucial as it essentially propels your body's forward and backward movements," he clarifies. Exercises like single-leg glute bridge holds and single-leg Romanian deadlift holds work and strengthen these muscles. Hence, executing them before your run could enhance your performance, according to Dugger.


Plyometric exercises should be an integral part of your running warm-up routine. However, instead of focusing on standard exercises like burpees and box jumps, Dugger recommends concentrating on movements that decrease ground contact time. Essential plyometrics for runners include A skips, B skips, ankle hops, pogo jumps, C skips, and karaokes. These exercises enhance the elasticity in your feet and ankles, fortify and prepare your calves, knees, and hips, and provide the springiness required to boost reactivity, diminish ground contact duration, and improve your running quality. The type of warm-up you engage in, however, should align with the kind of running activity you're preparing for. Sprinters might need to pay more attention to running strides or arm drive drills, along with exercises that relax the shoulders, states Dugger. The reason being, sprinters require their entire body — arms, knees, and legs — to drive since their runs typically last less than 10 seconds. On the other hand, a distance runner may not spend as much time on arm drives. Though this strategy might shave off a few seconds from their marathon time, whether the arms are pumping quickly enough is usually not a determining factor for winning or losing a marathon.

Mobility Work

Ultimately, a productive warm-up for running should encompass all three dimensions of movement: sagittal (forwards and backwards), coronal (side to side), and transverse (rotating), articulates Dugger. "Engaging [in this manner] essentially permits you to ready all your various joints, in addition to tissue, in all the directions of motion that might be integrated into your exercise," he clarifies. Plus, enhancing your capability to maneuver in these three dimensions can also diminish the likelihood of injuries, as per the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Therefore, Dugger advises including forward, reverse, and side lunges, as well as an array of stretches, in your pre-run routine. "Anything that's going to increase the warmth and flexibility of your tissue will prove beneficial," he elaborates.

6 Running Warm-Up Exercises to Do Before Your Workout

Not sure where to start with your own running warm-up? Try these moves, recommended and demonstrated by Dugger. They'll help prime your joints, loosen your tissue, and get your heart rate up so you can tackle your run with ease.

How it works: Do 1 to 3 sets of the following exercises for the recommended number of reps.

What you'll need: no equipment necessary


This exercise focuses on your hips, knees, and ankles, accelerates your heartbeat, and tests your coordination and reaction time, according to Dugger. Stand with your feet as wide apart as your hips, arms resting at your sides with palms facing inward. Elevate your right knee so it aligns with your hips while keeping your right foot flat and pointed downwards. Bring up your left hand to your chest level, keep your elbow bent and close to your body.

Swiftly elevate your left knee to hip level and your right hand to your chest while lowering the right foot back to the ground and the right hand down to the hip level. Perform a small hop on your right foot. This completes one cycle. Aim for 30 cycles, alternating between each side.

Alternating Scoops

Incorporate this exercise in your pre-running routine to flex the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, back, and shoulders, suggests Dugger. A. Position yourself with feet aligned with hips, arms alongside the body, and palms facing inward. B. Stretch out your right leg in front, make sure your heel touches the ground, and toes are directed towards the body. Bend at the hip joint to bring your chest and arms down towards the floor, then sweep both arms forward past your right calf. Continue this motion by moving your arms all the way up to the ceiling while straightening your body from the hip hinge. C. Upon standing, lower your arms back down to your sides, allow your right foot to step back and meet the left foot, and repeat the entire sequence on the opposite side. Complete 10 repetitions, switching sides each time.

Bicycle Circuit

Engage your glutes, abductors, and core with this no-equipment-needed exercise that will surely be felt. Dugger emphasizes its effectiveness. Start by lying on your right side on the ground, bending your legs at a 45-degree angle and aligning your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Rest your right forearm on the floor and place your left hand on your hip. This is your starting position. Keeping your feet together, elevate your hips from the floor and propel them forward. Reverse the motion, pushing your hips backward and returning them to the floor for one repetition. Complete ten of these. While maintaining elevated hips pushed forward, drive your left knee up to your chest. Then, reverse this movement and bring your left foot back to meet your right for another repetition. Complete ten of these. With your hips still elevated and pushed forward, drive your left foot back behind your body, fully extending the leg. Reverse the action and return your left foot to meet your right for one repetition. Complete ten reps. With your hips still lifted and pressed forward, raise your left knee upwards towards the ceiling. Then, reverse the movement and bring your left foot back to meet the right for one repetition. Complete ten reps. Finally, switch sides and repeat the entire circuit.

Forward Lunge Twist and Reverse Lunge Reach

Starting with feet set at hip-width apart, hands gently placed on the hips, this warm-up routine targets your back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and additionally stimulates your hip flexors in anticipation of a cardio session. A. Maintaining an upright chest, aligned shoulders over hips, and engaged core, step forward substantially with the left foot. Lower yourself until the left thigh is level with the ground forming 90-degree angles with both knees. B. In the lunge position, bring your hands to either side of your head, keeping elbows shoulder-width apart. Twist your upper body to face left before reversing to centre. Hands return to rest on hips. C. Driving up through the left foot, rise from the lunge before taking a big stride forward with right foot for the subsequent repetition. Perform 10 repetitions, alternating between each leg. D. From the forward lunge stance, drive up through the right foot returning to standing before taking a large step back with the right foot. Lower yourself so that the left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. E. Move hands off hips and reach arms overhead towards the wall behind, before returning hands to hips. F. Pushing up through the heel and midfoot of the left foot, rise from the lunge and then take a large backward step with the left foot to begin the next repetition. This exercise should also be completed with 10 repetitions, switching sides each time.

Alternating Lateral Lunge

"An excellent method to prime your glutes and hamstrings in the largely ignored frontal plane is the Alternating Lateral Lunge," Dugger states. Begin by standing with your feet together, your hands held in front of your torso. Take a generous step to your right side, instantly lowering into a lunge by bending your right knee and sinking your hips back, all while extending your arms out in front of your chest. Ensure your left leg remains straight, but not rigid, and both feet are aligned forward. By pushing through your right foot, straighten your right leg and bring your right foot side by side with your left foot, returning to your initial position. Continue this movement for 10 to 14 repetitions, alternating between sides.

Standing Leg Swings

Begin this pre-run warm-up exercise to effectively stretch your hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors, as recommended by Dugger.

A. Station yourself approximately two feet away from a wall, with your right side facing it. Keep your feet aligned with your hips and extend your arms at your sides. Rest your right hand on the wall for support and keep your left arm extended out at shoulder level. Shift your weight onto your left foot. This is your starting position.

B. Kick your right foot towards the back and swiftly swing it as high as possible in front of you. Simultaneously, move your left hand in front to touch your toes.

C. Gently place your right foot back down and spread your left arm out to the side to return to the initial pose. This completes one repetition.

D. Complete 10 repetitions. Switch sides and repeat the same movements.

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