Long-time readers know that I’m wary of static stretching. It can reduce performance and increase injury risk, while presenting few benefits to runners.
But if you’re not supposed to stretch before a run, then what should you do?
Simple: a series of dynamic warm-up exercises that prepares the body to run.
And when you think about it, static stretching doesn’t even accomplish what a good series of warm-up exercises should, like:
- Increased heart rate and respiration (getting the body revved up for your workout)
- Improved range of motion and lubricated joints
- More capillary activation (delivering more oxygen to your muscles)
- Increased elasticity in your tendons and ligaments (this reduces the risk of tears)
- Enhanced performance
That last point is what excites me: a simple series of warm up exercises can help you run faster? Sign me up!
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that well-trained male runners run faster after a dynamic warm-up.
Perhaps more importantly, after years of anecdotal evidence from thousands of runners who have simply felt better after a dynamic warm-up, I’m a big believer in these types of dynamic warm-up exercises.
The Mattock Dynamic Warm-up Routine
This routine requires no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere.
The majority of the dynamic warm-up exercises are done standing, so if you’re running from a muddy trail head or your car while it’s raining, you can just skip the first few exercises (also see the Q&A below).
Below are instructions for how to complete the warm up exercises in the routine:
- Hurdle Mobility: In a table position with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips, lift your leg so your thigh is parallel to the ground and your shin is at a 90 degree angle from your thigh. Make a circular motion with your knee like you’re moving your thigh over a hurdle. The next movement is exactly the same, except in the opposite direction.
- Iron Cross: Lie on your back with your arms out to your sides and swing your right leg across your torso and up to your left hand. Make sure to keep your shoulders flat against the ground, but you can rotate your torso and hips as you swing your leg toward your hand. Repeat the same movement for the left leg.
- Scorpion: Lie in a prone position with your arms out to your sides and swing your right leg across your back up to your left hand. Keep your shoulders and chest as flat against the ground as possible. Like Iron Cross, there will be a good amount of rotation in your torso and hips as you swing your leg toward your hand. Repeat the same movement for the left leg.
- Squat: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead. It’s also ok if your toes are pointing slightly outward. Sit back with your butt like you’re sitting down in a chair until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Drive your heels down and return to the standing position, ensuring your lower back stays in a neutral position.
- Walking Lunge: Step forward with your right leg, flexing the knees and dropping your hips. Descend until your left knee almost touches the ground. Drive your right heel into the ground and push yourself back to a standing position while taking a step forward. Repeat with the opposite leg. Maintain a tall, erect posture and ensure your knee does not go significantly beyond the toes while lunging.
- Walking Leg Swings (Zombie Walk): With your hands straight out in front of you (like a zombie!), swing your right leg up toward your right hand. Keep both knees straight and repeat on the opposite side.
- High-knee Skips: Skip forward and drive your right knee up so it’s about parallel to the ground and drive your foot back down to the ground. Alternate each leg. Keep your back tall with an exaggerated arm swing and make sure you don’t slam your feet on the ground.
- Side Leg Swings: Standing in front of a wall or pole for support, swing your leg parallel to the support so your foot comes up to about hip level. Make sure to keep your swing leg straight but don’t lock your knee.
Dynamic Warm-up Q&A
To get you started right, I answered the most common questions I get about dynamic warm-ups, stretching, and when to do these exercises.
When Should I Do This Routine?
This is a dynamic warm-up so it’s done before you run, ideally immediately before running.
If you are traveling somewhere to run and won’t be able to get on the ground to do the first several warm-up exercises, just do the floor exercises at home and the standing exercises when you arrive right before you start running.
How Many Times Per Week Can I Do This Routine?
This is what I consider an “easy” warm-up routine, so it’s best used before short, easy runs.
For faster workouts, long runs, and other challenging sessions (like races), I suggest my Standard Warm-up Routine.
Is the Order of Exercises Important?
Yes. Sequencing the exercises goes from general to specific (floor to standing) and simple to complex.
One of the Exercises Causes Pain—What Should I Do?
Just skip it. None of these exercises should cause discomfort, pain (especially sharp or stabbing pain), or hurt in any way.
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About the Author:
Jason Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, one of the web’s largest coaching sites for runners. He is a 2:39 marathoner, USATF-certified coach and his passion is helping runners set monster personal bests. Follow him on Twitter @JasonFitz1 and Facebook.