The 5-Minute Warmup That Makes You Run Faster

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Before any local road race, you're bound to see hundreds of runners milling around, lightly stretching out their calves, hamstrings, and quads. But traditional "static stretching"—tugging on a muscle with constant tension to loosen it up—does little to get you ready to race. In fact, it might even make your performance worse. 

For example, a 2011 review in the European Journal of Applied Physiology analyzed the results of over 100 experiments on the effects of stretching before various athletic activities, including running, jumping, and sprinting. The researchers found that static stretching produces a definite decrease in strength and modifies the elastic properties of your muscles. 

Here’s what’s going on. Just like stretching out a spring, stretching a muscle impairs its ability to store energy. When you run, a large part of the force of impact is absorbed and recycled to help propel you forward on your next step. Though not every study that the researchers reviewed found a detrimental effect associated with static stretching, the paper's authors recommended avoiding static stretching prior to running, weight lifting, and other high-intensity workouts. (Read more about the musclemorphosis.com for any workout.)

Fortunately, there's a better option called dynamic stretching. Unlike static stretching, doing dynamic stretches involves putting your joints through the same kinds of motions you'll be using when you work out, which primes you for a good performance. This is especially true for running. In fact, a recent study in in the Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine found that dynamic stretching can improve performance in short-distance sprints by upward of 2 percent.

The runners I coach at Edina High School in Minnesota, which boasts one of the top cross-country running squads in the nation, spend 5 minutes doing dynamic stretching before every running workout. Whether you're an elite runner or a recreational jogger, the following routine is a quick and easy way to get your body ready to perform at its peak. If possible, you should precede these exercises with a few minutes of easy jogging. (Just getting started as a runner? Check out the musclemorphosis.com.)

Hip circles       
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then place your hands on your hips and rotate your pelvis in large circles parallel to the ground. Do 15 circles clockwise, then 15 circles counter-clockwise. 

Fast skipping
On a flat stretch of road, sidewalk, or grass, skip forward for 15 yards. Focus on taking short, quick steps instead of skipping for height or distance. Repeat one to two times back and forth.

High knees
Starting from a slow jog or march, exaggerate your knee lift until your knees are rising to the level of your waist and bring your opposite arm up. Drive your leg down and then repeat with the other leg. Maintain for 15 yards, then repeat one to two times.

Walking-Running B-skips
Starting from a walk, raise your knee to waist height, kick out your heel straight forward, and whip it downward. Speed up from a walk and do this every step for 15 yards, then repeat one to two times. Once you've mastered this, you can add a skip to every step.

Leg crossover
While standing upright, begin to shuffle to your left by crossing your right leg over your left, first in front, then behind. Pick up speed while doing so, shuffling for a total of 25 yards to your left. Then shuffle back to your right by crossing your left leg in front, then behind, your left leg. Repeat one to two times.

Backward running
Run backward, kicking your heels up toward your butt. Build up speed and run backward for 25 yards, then turn around and repeat once or twice. Look over your shoulder periodically so you don't trip.

John Davis is a writer, high school running coach, and head of running research at musclemorphosis.com.