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Pre-run exercises

6 dynamic exercises to warm up before running

Two runners perform dynamic exercises to warm up before running.

As a new runner, warmups can feel anything but necessary. After all, if you feel like you're moving at sloth speed, you might feel tempted to count the first few minutes of your run as a warmup. But no matter how fast or far you can run, it's vital you warm up before running. I work with one newbie runner who can actually walk faster than she can jog — and we still warm up for every workout!

Why you should warm up before running

True to its name, warmups raise the temperature of your muscles by gradually increasing blood flow to them. In turn, those muscles become springier — and every runner can benefit from a healthy spring in their stride.

Warmups also release special electric molecules into your muscles to more or less give them a full charge. That way, as soon as you start your workout, your muscles are already poised to do their best work.

Lastly, by taking your hips, knees, and ankles through their full range of motion, pre-run warmups lubricate your joints and make your connective tissues (like ligaments and tendons) more pliable.

The end result: Every run feels easier, more comfortable, and comes with a lower risk of injury. Plus, by helping you run a bit faster and longer — without actually working any harder — warming up lets you get more out of every run.

A man running down the street in Levitate 5s

A 6-step pre-run warmup routine

To warm up before running, go through these six dynamic exercises. With zero gear required, they'll get your core fired up, hips and knees moving, and entire body ready to run. All it takes is five minutes: Do one set of 8–12 reps of each exercise below and you're ready to go.

1. Dead bug

Wake up your muscles to run with a strong, healthy posture. It'll boost your speed, lighten the load on your lower back, and help keep your lower body happy. This exercise gets your core warmed up while prepping your opposite arm and leg swings.

Steps:

  • Lie face-up on the floor with your arms and legs in the air. You can bend your knees if it feels best.
  • Press your lower back against the floor. You should feel your core working. Keep this back position throughout the entire exercise.
  • Extend one leg in front of you and the opposite arm behind you toward the floor as far as is comfortable while keeping your lower back against the floor.
  • Pause, then squeeze your core to raise your arm and leg back toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. That's one rep.

2. Side squat

Running is all about moving forward. But it's sideways movements that work your side glutes, which play a huge role in keeping your hips, knees, and even ankles happy. This multitasking exercise fires them up while also mobilizing your hips, knees, and ankles. Without a doubt, this is my favorite running warmup move.

Steps:

  • Stand tall with your feet about double shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core to slightly tuck your tailbone and make sure you're not arching through your lower back.
  • Push your hips back behind you and bend one knee to lower your torso to that side as far as is comfortable or until your thigh is parallel with the floor.
  • Pause, then slowly push through the heel of your bent leg to return to the wide stance. (Your feet will stay in place throughout the exercise.)
  • Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.

3. Shoulder squeeze

Your upper back muscles play a surprisingly large role in running. They keep your arms swinging and your shoulders braced. Most importantly, they keep your breathing easier. You know how when you feel out of breath, you naturally want to rest your arms over your head to get in more air? Keeping those upper-back muscles engaged does the same thing, giving your lungs space to bring in more air with every breath.

Steps:

  • Stand with your feet together, elbows bent, and hands by your shoulders (like you're about to do the chicken dance). Brace your core.
  • Resisting the urge to arch through your back or rock your torso, squeeze your shoulder blades down and together as hard as you can. You should feel your muscles working and being stretched at the same time.
  • Hold the squeeze for a couple of seconds, then release. That's one rep.
2 runners with a bright yellow wall behind them

4. Reverse lunge with overhead reach

A dynamic warmup move, this exercise gets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings working together, opens up your chest, and provides a gentle stretch for your hip flexors. If, like me, you go from working on the computer all day to working out, this dynamic stretch will feel fabulous.

Steps:

  • Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Brace your core.
  • Without arching through your lower back, step one foot behind you and lower into a lunge. Don't cock your hips — make sure the front of both hips face forward. You should feel a stretch in your back leg's hip.
  • At the same time, scoop your arms in front of you, then up toward the ceiling.
  • Pause, then press through your front heel to step your back foot forward. Lower your arms.
  • Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.

5. Forward leg swing

This move works your hip through its entire range of motion, both forward and back. It's a great way for loosening up the single-largest joint in your entire body.

Steps:

  • Stand with your feet together beside a sturdy object. Place one hand on it for balance. Raise one foot just off of the floor.
  • Keeping your core braced and moving with control, swing your leg straight out in front of you, then back behind you as far as is comfortable.
  • That's one rep. Do all reps and then switch legs.

6. Sideways leg swing

This dynamic drill activates and stretches your inner and outer thighs. You might also feel the side glutes of your standing leg working to keep you balanced. That's a good thing.

Steps:

  • Stand with your feet together and facing a sturdy object. Place one or both hands on it for balance. Raise one foot just off of the floor.
  • Keeping your core braced and moving with control, swing your leg straight out to your side, then in front of your body as far as is comfortable.
  • That's one rep. Do all reps and then switch legs.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.