After completing my first marathon, I found myself in the physical therapist’s office attempting to regain movement in my right knee. While running a marathon is certainly a physical challenge in itself, most runners are still able to recover on their own after completing the race. I, on the other hand, wound up needing a little extra help.
My time in physical therapy was rather eye opening. It turns out that I had been running all wrong; not during my actual training runs, but in the ways I was recovering and warming up (or lack thereof). My physical therapist wanted to find the cause of my problems, so we spent quite some time discussing my training routine. Much to my surprise, he was actually the least concerned with the way I was running.
We spent our first few sessions talking about flexibility, stretching, recovery, and warming up. He was not surprised to find that I had been avoiding warming up throughout training in attempts to make my runs as time efficient as possible. After spending a few months learning new exercises and completing tedious movements, I came out of the office feeling fresh and ready to tackle a new running challenge.
I learned a lot from my time in physical therapy, but the one thing I learned that has influenced my running the most is the importance of warming up and cooling down. Up until my first marathon, I had spent as little time as possible getting my body ready to run or allowing it time to cool down. My physical therapist showed me some dynamic warm-up moves that have helped me remain free of injuries, even while working to increase my speed or distance.
These moves have become so important in my running routine. I complete these moves before most runs, with the exception of slow recovery runs, where I plan to use the first mile (or all of the run, really) to warm up and ease into it. The dynamic warm up is most important before races, tempo workouts, or if you have been sitting around all day prior to your run.
After a great deal of experimentation, research, and trial and error, here are what I have found to be the best warm up exercises and stretches to complete before a run.
The Best Warm Up Exercises and Stretches for Running
Standing Leg Extensions: Complete these exercises one leg at a time. Balance on your left foot while bringing your right knee up towards your chest, and then extending your right foot straight out in front of you. Complete about with your right foot, and then do the same with your left foot.
Knee Hug to Chest: Complete these exercises one leg at a time. Balance on your left foot while bringing your right knee up to your chest, and hugging it closer with your arms. Hold for about 10 to 20 seconds and then switch legs.
Forward Leg Swings: Complete these exercises one leg at a time. Balance on your left foot as you swing your right foot out in front of you as high as possible. Swing your leg like a pendulum now behind you as high as possible. Complete 10-20 leg swings before switching to the other leg.
Lateral Leg Swings: Complete these exercises one leg at a time. They are similar to the forward leg swings, but now you will swing your leg side to side rather than forward and back. Balance on your left foot and swing your right leg out to the right as high as possible. Like a pendulum, now swing your right leg over to the left (you won’t be able to go very high on this side). Complete 10-20 leg swings before switching to the other leg.
Bent Leg Circles: Complete these exercises one leg at a time. Balance on your left foot and swing your right knee in a circular motion up to your chest, out to the right, back down and around to your chest again. Complete 10-20 circles before switching to the other leg.
Skips: These can be done either in place, or moving forward. Complete about 30 skips in total, trying to get your knees up as high as possible each time. Do not rush the tempo but skip slowly, focusing on form instead.
Butt Kicks: Similar to the skips, these can be done either in place or moving forward. Jog while kicking your heels up high enough to kick your but each time. Do not rush the tempo here either, and focus on your form.
Completing all of these moves takes no more than 2 or 3 minutes, but adds great value to your run. Your body will be warmed up and loose before you even head out the door. Completing dynamic moves prior to running signals your body that hard work is coming, and prepares your muscles to be in their best shape. Warming up also helps prevent injuries by loosening our muscles before we push them to their limits.
Adding these moves to my regular routine has allowed me to make much more progress than before. I had hit a plateau and was unable to make any improvements to my speed or distance until I began warming up properly. I hope these dynamic exercises will prove to help you in the same way!