6 Exercises Every Runner Should Warm Up With

Easy moves for improving performance and preventing injury

Flossing, changing the toilet paper roll, organizing your Tupperware cabinet, taking the stairs; we know all of these things are healthy or helpful yet we hardly ever take the time to do them because, well… they’re just not detrimentally necessary. Would your life be improved if you tackled these tasks on a regular basis? Probably. But can you get by without worrying too much about them? Absolutely. (Well, at least until you get a cavity.)

Almost every runner understands the importance of warming up and it’s not that hard to do (it barely takes more than five to ten minutes), yet when you’re squeezing a workout into an already action-packed day it seems preposterous to add on any extra time.

Just like with life’s most mundane chores, when it comes to running you know you’d be better off by going beyond the bare minimum, but you hardly ever spend time perfecting the little things because most of the time you might be able to get by without them. (Well, at least until you get injured.)

Hopefully you’re catching my drift here. I’m totally guilty of skipping the all-important warm-up before I exercise, a horrible habit that I confessed to Master Certified Fitness Pro Andia Winslow when I met up to run with her at The Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York City recently.

“Do a dynamic warm-up, even when you don't feel like it,” she told me. She says her number one injury-prevention tip includes making sure that your warm-up makes you break a sweat. “You want to be certain that the body's core temperature is elevated and that your muscles are prepped to work efficiently,” she explained.

She also explained why a dynamic warm-up is so important for runners (and all athletes, really) and showed me some of her favorite injury-preventing pre-workout moves.

“Moving in several planes of motion simultaneously readies the body and central nervous system for ‘real’ work,” says Winslow. “These warm-up exercises more realistically replicate functional movement patterns and real time athletic movement.”

Before every workout, warm up with an easy three- to five-minute jog then perform these five simple dynamic exercises to prevent injury and improve performance. 

Knee Hugs
Start standing tall with your feet about hip-width distance apart. Focus on using your hips to draw your right knee up towards your chest. Place both hands just below your knee and hold the position for a moment before letting go and slowly lowering your leg. Repeat the same movement with your left leg, then alternate between right and left for 10-20 reps.

Progression: Move forward as you alternate between lifting your right and left legs.

Hand Walks
Start standing tall with your feet about hip-width distance apart. Take a deep breath in and begin to bend forward at the hips as you exhale making sure to keep your core engaged. Fold all the way forward until your hands reach the floor. (You can bend your knees slightly if needed.) Place your hands firmly on the floor in front of you and then walk them out away from your feet until your body is in high-plank position. Do one push-up and then while making sure to keep your legs straight, walk them towards your hands until your back in the forward fold position. Keep your core tight and engage your hamstrings and glutes as you slowly return to standing position. Repeat this sequence 5-10 times.

Start standing tall with your feet about hip-width-distance apart. Keep your right leg straight as you lift it out in front of you while reaching your left hand towards your right toes. Lower your right leg and then repeat the same movement with your left, alternating back and forth for 10-20 reps.

Progression: Move forward as you alternate between lifting your right and left legs.

Lateral Leg Swings
With your feet about hip-width-distance apart, face a wall and stand about one arm-length’s distance away. Place your left hand on the wall and lift up onto your left toes. Keeping your back straight and your core tight, begin by swinging your right leg inward across your left leg and then out and away from your body. Build up momentum and swing your right leg gently left to right for 10-20 reps before repeating the sequence with your left leg.

(You can also stand with your shoulder facing the wall and perform a variation of this move by swinging your legs forward and backward as well.)

Runner’s Lunge
Assume low lunge position with your right leg forward. Lower your torso towards the floor and place both hands or forearms on the floor on the inside of your right foot. Making sure to keep your right quad parallel to the ground (don’t let it fall outward) hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds before slowly rising back up to the beginning low lunge position and then sitting back towards your left heel (keeping your left foot flexed under) so that your right leg extends fully and you feel a stretch in your right hamstring as you reach your arms towards your right toes. Hold here for another 5 to 10 seconds before repeating the sequence on the opposite side.

With your feet about hip-width-distance apart, face a wall and stand about one arm-length’s distance away. Making sure to engage your core and keep a straight, tall spine, place both hands on the wall. Bend your right knee and lift your right leg up as you turn your knee outward (think dog peeing on a fire hydrant) and step your leg back as if you were lifting it up and over an imaginary hurdle. Repeat the same movement in the opposite direction to return to the starting position and then complete 10-15 reps with your right leg before performing the same sequence with your left. (Note: Perfect this movement by creating a makeshift hurdle. Ask a friend to hold their arm below your leg or by place a small object beneath you so that you can make sure you’re lifting your leg high enough.)