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Better Running - Warming up for running

By Laura McAuley - Level 3 certificate in Personal Training

Warm-up is the preparatory component at the start of any exercise session. The aim is to prepare the body for the type of exercise to follow. A slow, graduated approach will allow all body systems to adjust effectively.

A good running warm up will ensure you get the most out of your session, reduce severity of DOMS and help you avoid injury. 

Getting into the habit of using an effective warm up will

- Improve running economy

- Reduce injury

- Help you recover faster


We want to:

Mobilise the joints

Increase heart rate gradually

Warm the muscles

Lengthen and stretch the muscles

Rehearse activities in the main session.


A commonly used structure is RAM


This refers to pulse raisers - activities that progressively raise the heart rate. This gives the heart and circulatory system time to respond and prepare to deliver increased oxygen to the muscles once the exercise becomes more strenuous. As the heart rate increases, so does the body temperature. This increased body temperature improves the elasticity of intramuscular connective tissue, making the muscles more pliable and less viscous. This allows smoother and more efficient muscle contractions.


As we build intensity of movement with activation exercises, the nervous system is alerted to prepare the body. This results in increased speed at which nerve impulses travel though the body, enabling more efficient movement. In addition, metabolic activity in muscle tissue is stimulated leading to increased energy production and removal of waste products such as lactic acid. Using a graduated approach to the warm up will help to reduce lactic acid build-up in the early stages of the exercise session.


This is most often done with dynamic stretching movements and benefits the joints. The ends of the bones in a joint are covered with hyaline cartilage which serves to reduce friction during movement. This cartilage is nourished by the release of synovial fluid in the joint space. When the joints are mobilised through their range of motion, the temperature of the synovial fluid increases and flows more readily to lubricate the joint. This enables smoother movement of the joint. In the short-term this means optimal joint movement during the session and in the long-term means reduced wear and tear of the joint.

Important points to note

A less-trained athlete will need a longer and more gradual warm up than a well-trained athlete.

If you are newer to training, add in more mobility exercises and focus on building the range of motion more gradually. Initially as you add in a warm up, use slower, controlled movements and concentrate on maintaining posture, alignment and correct technique.

Simple and effective running warm up exercises

These two videos are just examples of what a really effective 3 minute running dynamic warm up might look like

On the trail

Activate & Mobilise:.

Kenyans and Carioca are great for loosening up your back.

Side steps activate the adductors, inside your thigh.

Heel kicks activate the glutes and hamstrings whilst lengthening the quads

High knees lengthens the glutes and hamstrings whilst activate the quads and hip flexors

Calf pops, or single leg hopping is great for activating the calf and ankle complex.

A lunge walk adds slightly more load through greater range. Crossing the leading leg over the centre focusses the work onto your outside glute muscles.

Walking hip circles lubricate the hip joint and allow for full range of motion. They also challenge your balance, switching on the brain-body connection.

A dynamic stretch of the main running muscles to finish the warm-up ensures good range.

At home

Mobilise the ankle joint with some simple circles. 

Hip swings activate and mobilise, keep your body upright. 

A progressive walking drill activates calf muscles and also engages all the structures responsible for balance. 

Larger movements of squats, skiers lunge and lunges add controlled load through a full range, in all directions, for the glutes and quads. 

Arabesques focus load onto the hamstrings, activating and lengthening. 

Hip mobilisation through full range completes the warm-up before some specific dynamic stretching. 



We have more useful coaching resources to help you run better. 

Or why not join us for a practical workshop to help you become an expert in your own body! Strength and mobility for runners



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