Healthy Habits,  Science

Warming-up for Runners

Is warming-up for exercise really important? Honestly warming-up has always been the part of the workout that I’ve dreaded the most – the annoying part in gym class where everyone stands in a circle and hold on to each other whilst trying to do stretches that no one is able to do properly. It has just always felt like such a waste of time, seriously what are we achieving here?

Later as my Swimming got more serious my coach would stretch me before a heat/Race. I’ll never forget how embarrassing it was when he starched my arms and I forgot to shave … (BLUSH). But then doing a much more serious competitive form of sport it made sense for me to stretch.

When becoming a recreational runner I just winged it. I have very tight muscles and trying to stretch these babies does not work, I do not think I’ll ever be able to touch my toes, and I’ve made peace with that.

Before starting a group running session with my CMIYC Ladies the one Runner asked me a question.

Runner: “Jani – please can you give me some warming up exercises to help me?”

Me: “Err….” (Thinking, trying to look like I know what I’m doing)

Runner: (Waiting in anticipation for an answer…)

Me: “you know…I’m not sure – I’ve always just winged it….”

I felt really silly that I couldn’t give her a right answer so I started with some research. I did recommend stretching after the run at home I do believe that helps, especially for tight calves and hamstrings.

So there are a lot of different answers out there. Some don’t really believe in warming up and neither did I to be honest. But I must say what I found really makes sense, and I think I’ll be adding some new warm up exercises to my training as well as group runs.

Warming up can help you prepare your body mentally and physically. It helps you prepare for the next step – it can also help prevent injury and increase your overall performance. Have you ever noticed that some days your first few kilometers feel so hard, your legs are heavy and you’re struggling to get into a rhythm?

According to what I’ve read up that’s due to not warning up. By just starting with an exercise your body has not had the time to get into the swing of things.

After reading that it made allot of sense. My first 5 km of a run is always hard – and only at about 6km do I start to have fun. This is really bad because most days my time is so limited that I can only do a quick 5km. so I end up dreading my run and not even benefiting from the endorphins. I sit most of my day behind a desk. It really is not my ideal position but it’s unavoidable. After sitting for almost 7-8 hours a day and then I also sit in traffic for about 90min a day, again, unavoidable.

So after sitting a whole day it can compromise the function of your muscles – sitting for long periods of time can cause your muscles to also shut down (in a sense). Warming-up activates the stretch reflex. This tells your muscles they need to turn on again. Staring your workout requires lengthening and shortening of muscles, and warming-up gets you ready for that. The stretch reflex is intended to protect your muscles from being pulled too far and tearing, so Warming-up will optimize your muscle production, and help prevent injury.

I read an article by David Reavy on the Map my run blog. He said that most people make the mistake of not actually warming up properly. Below is his 2 Mistakes to avoid when warming up.

You don’t address muscle tightness first.

If you are really tight (which most people are), it can be difficult for you to do a proper warm-up effectively. Addressing these muscles first with a foam roller or lacrosse ball will loosen them up and allow you to reap the benefits of your warm-up.

You use static stretching as a warm-up.

Stretching should be done after activity as part of your cooldown. I know stretching before a workout seems like the natural order, but studies show that static stretching can actually decrease your performance. In other words, you are better off not warming up at all than warming up with stretching.

So that makes sense to me, and why I think that stretching before an exercise is a waste of time. Rather walk briskly before a run to get you muscles to wake up a bit.

David also states that static stretching lengthens the muscle too much, not allowing it to contract. If you are for instance pulling a rubber band and you let go, the band snaps back quickly with a lot of force, if you pull it too far, it either breaks or is so overly stretched, it can’t snap back or recover to its normal length. Avoid static stretching before a workout, rather go for a functional warm-up involving exercises that lengthen and shorten your muscles.

Sometimes we’re pressed for time and we just jump in on the fast running with no warm-up, so we skip the warm-up figuring the main workout is more important anyway.

Testing to see if warming-up helps with injury prevention is a very difficult one. Mainly because no athlete is really prepared to place themselves on the line to do the study. I mean who wants to injure themselves on purpose?

But according to an article done by Gale Bernhardt; There have been human studies done on sudden, high-intensity exercise and the effects on the heart.

One particular study had 44 men (free of overt symptoms of coronary artery disease) run on a treadmill at high intensity for 10 to 15 seconds without any warm-up. Electrocardiogram (ECG) data showed that 70 percent of the subjects displayed abnormal ECG changes that were attributed to low blood supply to the heart muscle. The abnormal changes were not related to age or fitness level.

To examine the benefit of a warm-up, 22 of the men with abnormal results did a jog-in-place at a moderate intensity for two minutes before getting on the treadmill for another test of high-intensity running. With that small two-minute warm-up, 10 of the men now showed normal ECG tracings and 10 showed improved tracings. Only two of the subjects still showed significant abnormalities.

It is not known if a more thorough warm-up of 10 to 20 minutes would have made more improvements. It would have been interesting to see the results if the scientists would have taken the experiment that additional step.

It is also said that what the mind believes the body will achieve. If you are not mentally prepared for an exercise you might experience it as much worse than it actually is. For most especially if you’re not very fit yet you may find that excises can be very unpleasant, and if you did not do a warm up and mentally prepare yourself for what’s coming it could impact your results significantly.

Exercising without being mentally prepared might just put a whole negative spin on everything to follow. While you warm up, concentrate on what you want to achieve in the workout that is going to follow. Decide what you want to have achieved after the workout is done, and think about the effort you want to put in and how the overall session is going to contribute to your fitness journey.

This will help you feel motivated, you know – Psyche yourself up a bit! Be your own motivator!


So now even I have been schooled out of my ‘just-wing-it’ ways, below are a few nice warm up routines:

Head rolls:

(I hate this one, feels so useless…)

Start by gently lowering one ear toward your shoulder on the same side without raising your shoulder up. From here, gently roll your head toward the front centre of your body and then to the opposite shoulder. Repeat this 5 times to each side.

Big arm circles:

(Just ensure you’re not gonna bump something

Rotate one arm at a time forward like you are swimming in a circular motion and then backward. Switch to the other arm. Repeat 5 times in each direction per arm.

Back slappers:

(Just don’t be too eager in the beginning with this one, you’ll slap your yourself breathless, lol)

With your arms stretched out to both sides, cross them in front of you until they are seemingly hugging yourself where your hands “slap” your back. Do 10 reps, crossing the arms in alternating motions so the right is on top and then the left is on top during the “hugging” motion.

Hip circles:

(This one reminds me of those 80 aerobics videos with the big hair and headbands)

With your hands on your hips, move your body from the waist only in a circular motion clockwise five times and then repeat the motion counter clockwise five times.

Side twist:

(Again – Just ensure you’re not gonna bump something

 Moving from the waist only, twist your upper body and arms to one side, back to the centre and then to the opposite side. Repeat the twist 5 times per side.

Knee up:

Lift one leg as high as possible and gently grasp the knee and pull it slightly in toward your body while balancing on your opposite leg. Repeat walking forward alternating from leg to leg (5 reps per leg).

Butt kickers:

(This use to be a fun one in school.)

Either in place or moving forward, make a running motion with your legs but almost hit your rear with your feet to stretch out the hamstrings. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.

Sky walkers:

(I look like the biggest idiot with this one, no coordination..)

 With your hands reaching up to the sky. Walk forward kicking one leg up at the time trying to touch your toe to your hands to stretch your hamstrings. Repeat 5 times per leg.

Toe tappers:

(Just reassure your partner that this is a warm-up and that you’re not actually being impatient,)

 Warm up the shins by tapping your right foot on the ground 20 times and then repeating on the left.

As another addition after your workout so some stretches – I’m not going to pretend like I do all these heaps of stretches, ain’t nobody got time for that!

But what I do, do is calve stretches and a foam rolling routine, in addition I also do roll my calves out with a golf ball. I’ll post about that sometime soon as well. It really helps and has been a life saver for me with regards to shin-splints (Splits? Splints? Anyway you get it!)

So this was a long post – but I’m sure you can now go and runoff into the sunset, after warming up 😉

Thank you Brittany Cunningham-Scott from for the beautiful Photos

Happy Running

xxx- Jani

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