Pre-Run Warmups

A Dynamic Stretching Routine

Maybe you've heard that stretching before a run is a big mistake. Indeed, studies show that static stretching—holding a muscle in an elongated, fixed position for 30 seconds or more—could hurt performance if done before a workout (save it for after your run). But dynamic stretching, which uses controlled leg movements to improve range of motion, loosens up muscles and increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow to help you run more efficiently. Dynamic stretching is most effective when it's sport-specific. This prerun routine targets the muscles used for running. Start slowly, focusing on form; as the exercises get easier, pick up speed. Use small movements for the first few reps, and increase the range of motion as you go. Written descriptions of each exercise can by clicking through to the following video.

LEG LIFTS
Swing one leg out to the side, then swing it back across your body in front of your other leg. Repeat 10 times on each side. Feel wobbly? Hold onto a steady object.

BUTT-KICKS
While standing tall, walk forward with an exaggerated backswing so that your heels come up to your glutes. When this is easy, try it while jogging. Do 10 reps on each side.

PIKE STRETCH
Get in a "pike" position (hips in the air). Put your right foot behind your left ankle. With your legs straight, press the heel of the left foot down. Release. Repeat 10 times on each side.

HACKY-SACK
Lift your left leg up, bending the knee so it points out. Try to tap the inside of your left foot with your right hand without bending forward. Repeat 10 times on each side.

TOY SOLDIER
Keeping your back and knees straight, walk forward, lifting your legs straight out in front and flexing your toes. Advance this by adding a skipping motion. Do 10 reps on each side.

WALKING LUNGES
Step forward using a long stride, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes. Lower your body by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Maintain an upright posture and keep your abdominal muscles tight.

Dynamic Stretching Better Before Training and Racing

Jimmy Fallon once said, "Don't keep reaching for the stars because you'll just look like an idiot stretching that way for no reason." Turns out he may be right. New research indicates that the flexibility that is a by-product of pre-run static stretching may be a biomechanical factor that hurts running economy, which is a measure of your overall efficiency. Do something to worsen your running economy before a race or workout, and you're going to go slower. That's why growing numbers of elites have eliminated static stretching before their most important runs and replaced it with a series of dynamic stretching exercises.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009 explains the logic behind the switch. Researchers at Nebraska Wesleyan University enlisted male and female collegiate distance runners to complete sit-and-reach tests to measure flexibility, and then put them on a treadmill to determine running economy. The result: An increase in hamstring flexibility generally correlated with a decrease in running economy.

As the researchers wrote, "[T]he less flexible distance runners tended to be more economical, possibly as a result of the energy-efficient function of the elastic components in the muscles and tendons during the stretch-shortening cycle."

Ralph Reiff, a licensed athletic trainer and director of sports performance for St. Vincent Hospital of Indianapolis, has worked with collegiate and elite runners for many years. He explains that static stretching isn't all bad, but from a performance perspective, "static stretching causes an inhibition or a breakdown of the excitability of the muscle tissue." The immediate effects from static stretching actually include decreased muscle function.

"To get a good static stretch you are asking the body on a subconscious level to relax," says Reiff. "From a muscle-recruitment standpoint, you don't want to turn the muscles off in a relaxed state prior to asking them to perform. The elastic energy of a tighter muscle is going to have more recoil and power than a heavily stretched muscle.

The caveat is that simply eliminating static stretching won't necessarily increase performance and decrease injury. This is where dynamic stretching comes in. Rather than standing in one place and forcing your muscles to stretch, this type of stretching trains the muscles to warm up and fire the way you want them to through a series of dynamic movements.

Under the tutelage of Reiff, Team Indiana Elite, a post-collegiate program out of Bloomington, Ind., has adopted a regular dynamic stretching routine. Speaking about a set of dynamic stretches and pre-activation drills developed by Reiff, Team Indiana's Stephen Haas says, "I think it has really helped. I've done more mileage and better workouts than I ever did in college and I've somehow been able to stay healthy."

Overall, the 13-member team has had no major injuries since forming three years ago. Haas, a 2:18 marathoner and 130-mile-aweek runner says, "It's all about getting every muscle in the lower leg, upper leg, hip, butt, and glutes activated." The team performs dynamic stretches before every run and race.

Team Indiana's coach, Robert Chapman, explains, "Basically, by engaging in these activities, we can neurologically activate specific muscle groups prior to running, which helps us minimize injuries and perform better in the subsequent workout." As seen with Chapman's runners, dynamic stretching can assist in bettering performance, while simultaneously reducing injuries.

On a physiological level, Reiff also describes dynamic stretching as a way to stimulate the neurological system, which in turn activates the muscles. This, he explains, makes them more resilient to external stimulus, which leads to a quicker neurological response, "so the muscle is standing ready when called upon to run faster, jump higher, and do what the athlete wants it to do."

A DYNAMIC APPROACH

"The dynamic warm-up piece is truly like turning a light switch on before walking into a dark room," contends Reiff. Dynamic stretches that include quick-paced movements like bounding, jumping, and single-leg swings help to fire up the muscles that you want to perform. To implement a dynamic warm-up routine, Reiff suggests choosing a set of exercises you will remain committed to and practice before every run and race. The routine described at the right can be done in 10 minutes.

While static stretching remains a good post-run ritual, the research and applied evidence touts the many advantages of engaging in a dynamic routine in its place. Says Reiff, "Dynamic stretching recruits more of the body than static stretching. We certainly don't throw away static stretching, but it has its place. For pre-race and pre-training, dynamic flexibility and movement has a much better return on the investment." Reiff recommends performing the exercises before every regular run. Prior to hard workouts and races it tends to work best to do a warm-up jog and then perform the dynamic stretches, followed by strides. This helps to adequately warm up the muscles and then get the right ones firing in the right ways.

Reiff adds, "If you can train athletes on a daily basis to fire those muscles appropriately and go through a dynamic warm-up that ensures that all muscle groups are worked, then you have a better runner."

SEVEN DYNAMIC STRETCHES

1) REVERSE LUNGE WITH TWIST
Take an exaggerated step backwards with the right leg. Go into the lunge position, twist your torso to the left, and reach for your right heel with your left hand. Come back to lunge posit ion, stand up, and step back with the left leg to repeat on the other side. Continue for 50 meters

2) KNEE CRADLE
Standing, lift your left leg with the knee facing outwards. Use your hands to cradle the leg at the knee and ankle; avoid pulling on the foot. Simultaneously rise to your toes on your right foot before releasing your left leg, stepping forward, and repeating on the other side. Continue for 50 meters

3) STRAIGHT LEG MARCH
March forward and swing your leg straight in front of you with each step. Attempt to touch your foot with the opposite hand upon each swing. Continue for 50 meters

4) BUTT KICKS
As you run, bend your knee and bring your heel back to your butt with each step. Steps should be short and rapid as you focus on the frequency of the butt kicks, rather than the pace at which you move forward. Drive your arms forward with each step. Continue for 50 meters

5) HIGH KNEES
Running on the balls of your feet, bring you r knees up as high as possible with each step. As with butt kicks, pay attention to frequency rather than pace. Steps should be small and quick. Drive your opposite arm forward as each knee comes up. Continue for 50 meters.

6) CARIOCA
With your shoulder s square and facing one direction, get into a semi-squatting position. Cross your left leg in front of your right leg, bring your right leg through, and then cross your left leg behind your right leg. Go 50 meters one way, continue facing the same direction, and go back.

7) SCORPION
Lying face down with your chest on the ground, pull your left leg up and across the right leg to the opposite side of your body. Switch sides continuously until you have performed the stretch 10 times on each side.

Five Exercises to Do Before Every Run

Look, we’re all guilty of doing a few toe touches or a quick quad stretch before a run and counting that as the warm-up. And while that might work for most people most of the time, it’s not the best way to get your body prepped to run your best for the miles ahead. In fact, a recent study shows that a dynamic warm-up routine can help you perform better.

In the study, researchers compared how well study participants ran after moving versus sitting. When runners did dynamic stretches, they were able to go almost two and a half minutes longer before they tired out compared to when they sat. The following five dynamic warm-up exercises, demonstrated by Roman Siromakha, a certified trainer based in New York City, are the exact same ones used in the study.

How to use this list: Perform each move below 10 times, moving through each rep quickly, before your run. The entire routine should take less than five minutes to complete.

1. Hip Flexor Warm-Up

Hip Flexer.jpg

Start standing tall. Flex your hip by drawing left knee up toward chest as you swing your right arm forward (as if you are running). Return to starting position and repeat with right knee and left arm. That’s 1 rep.

2. Leg Flexor Stretch

Leg Flexor.jpg

Stand tall. Draw left knee toward chest until thigh is parallel to the ground, as you simultaneously swing your right arm forward and left arm back (as if you are running). Engage your quad to extend left leg straight out. Return to standing, then repeat with the other leg. That’s 1 rep.

3. Leg Extensor Stretch

Leg Extensor Stretch.jpg

Start standing. Slowly bend left knee to bring left heel behind you to glute as you swing your right arm forward and left arm back (as if you are running). You should feel your left hamstring engage. Return to starting position, then repeat on the other leg. That’s 1 rep. 

Plantar Flexor Stretch

Stand with your hands on your hips. Lift your left foot a few inches, keeping your knee straight. Quickly flex your foot, pulling toes upward to shin and pointing them down. Return to standing, then repeat with the other foot. That’s 1 rep.

Hip Extensor Stretch

Hip Extensor Stretch.jpg

From standing, hinge forward at your hips. Draw left knee up toward chest while bringing right arm forward. From there, maintain the same lean as you quickly kick left leg back behind you while you simultaneously swing left arm forward and right arm back (as if you are running). Return right knee in front of you and repeat for 10 reps. Then repeat with other leg.