The Why and How of a Good Warmup

What do you do to prepare your body before you start your run for the day?

If you’re like a lot of runners, you prepare your body for your run by running.

No matter what is on tap for the day, the warmup stays the same: start with an easy mile or two to get the heart beating and the muscles firing.

I know, because that is exactly how I warmed up for years.

If I was running easy, I’d do my warmup mile and then just continue on (at basically the same pace) for another few miles before I’d call it a day. And if I was doing a harder workout, I’d get my warmup mile in before picking up the pace and effort level for the hard portion of the workout.

If this warmup routine sounds familiar to you, you’re in the company of quite a few other runners. But if you are serious about getting a good warmup in before your run, which I would encourage you to do, then you can do better than simply running.

But first, let’s talk about why a warmup is such an important part of your regular routine.

Why the Warmup Matters

The purpose of the warmup is pretty straight forward: to prepare your body for the upcoming physical demands of running.

How? By increasing your heart rate, improving the elasticity of your muscles and tendons, and lubricating your joints.

Warming up by running is certainly better than not warming up at all, but if you want to get the maximum benefits of the warmup, then you have to do more than simply running before you go running.

A Proper Warmup Must Be Dynamic

A good warmup should always include plenty of movement.

While an easy mile or so does qualify as movement, you can do better. When you’re running, and especially when you’re running easy, you’re not moving your legs through a full range of motion.

And in order to get the full benefit of your warmup, you definitely want to get as close to a full range of motion as possible.

What is the solution?

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing a number of different running coaches on my podcast over the years, and as such I’ve been able to learn from a variety of my peers in the field of coaching. Jay Johnson is a coach who instructs all of his athletes to go through both the lunge matrix and a series of leg swings before every run.

Since I talked with Jay, I’ve upped the quality of my warmup by adding the lunge matrix and leg swings to my pre-run routine.

The quality of my workouts since adding in the lunges and swings has definitely improved: the best of both worlds.

The Best of Both Worlds

The lunges and leg swings are now a key component of my warmup routine.

This combination of exercises ticks all the boxes of a good warmup: increased heart rate, increased elasticity of the muscles and tendons, and lubrication of the relevant joints.

The only problem with relying on the lunges and leg swings is that it’s not specific to the motion of running.

Therefore, the best bet when it comes to a good warmup is a combination of the two.

Whether you’re doing the lunge matrix and leg swing combo, or some other form of dynamic warmup (squats, burpees, high knees, butt kicks, etc.), you should still ease into your run, race, or workout with an easy mile or so.

Don’t Skip the Warmup. It’s Too Important!

If you’re pressed for time, and all of us are pressed for time, it’s easy to think that rushing through the warmup and getting right to your workout is the best use of your training time.

That’s not true.

The quality of your workout is going to be improved by taking the time, and it really only takes about five minutes, to go through a good warmup before your run. And as if you need more incentive to do a proper warmup, it’ll also reduce your risk of suffering an injury during any particular run.

The warmup is every bit as important as the rest of your workout, and if you can improve the quality of your warmup, you will absolutely improve the quality of your run as well.

So stop slacking on your warmup and make it the priority that it should be!

By Denny Krahe

Denny Krahe is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Running Coach specializing in helping runners prevent common running injuries and being able to run pain free. He is also the host of the "Diz Runs With..." podcast.