On Sunday, my wife and I drove to a local trailhead to run, sore from a week of training. We put the car in park and stepped stiffly out, impersonating the Tin Man and Tin Woman trying to do an unpracticed robot dance. Our first attempts at movement were comedy tinged with sadness, kind of like the emotions you feel when watching the evening news.
But we had an antidote to our struggles—a tried and true pre-run routine. We warmed up and proceeded to have one of our best long runs of the season.
The warm-up is one of the most important parts of any run. All tin people need lubrication before they can start moving and grooving without risking muscle strains and other compensation injuries. A routine for hopping out of the car (or after leaving the office) has the added bonus of reminding your brain and body that it is time to go. Do the routine enough, and you remove the uncertainty about how you will feel each day.
So what should you be doing? Here is a five-minute routine you can do before every run.
Even dogs prefer to do short warm-ups. There’s a reason they don’t call it the downward facing human. Photo by David Roche
1. Walk Around
Before you can run, you have to walk. Start by getting out of the car or away from your desk and walking briskly while swinging your arms for one or two minutes (or longer, if you have time). Focus on moving swiftly and with purpose to bat away those lethargy cobwebs we all feel sometimes.
You’ll know you’re ready for the next step when walking around no longer feels unnatural.
2. Lunge Matrix
It’s all about moving front, back and side to side. The lunge matrix is a quick set of lunges that coach Jay Johnson has his athletes do prior to running. It gets the blood pumping and primes you to move.
You should always return to the center after every lunge; don’t lunge-walk forward. Start with 10 forward lunges (five on each leg). Then do 10 forward lunges with a trunk twist, 10 rear lunges and 10 side lunges. If you are ambitious, finish with 10 side lunges at an increased angle (see video).
The lunges get your muscles working and provide a running-specific dynamic stretch. They have the added benefit of getting you buns of steel.
You may be sore for a few days the first time you do these, but it goes away after that and probably won’t come back. Be careful if you have any knee issues
3. Leg Swings
Now, find your nearest tree (if you’re at a trailhead) or pole (if you’re in a city or a strip club). Hold it for balance and do leg swings: 10 front to back and 10 side to side on each leg, opening up your hips and glutes.
The combination of lunge matrix and leg swings should make you feel like a new person, ready to tackle the run.
4. Achilles Wake-Up
For just a few seconds, walk around on your toes. This simple act reminds your Achilles tendons that they’ll be along for the run as well.
5. Bounce Around
Prior to starting the run, just bounce around at a slow jog pace for a minute or two. I recommend doing these at two to three minutes per mile slower than you plan to run—the only goal is to prepare for the pounding, not to actually start the workout.
After that, stop, take a sip or two of water and get rolling. (Optional step that Megan often adds: Do a quick dance if there is good music on her headphones). Those extra five minutes may have let over-eager runner get up the trail, but you’ll be passing them soon, when they are huffing and puffing from lack of an adequate warm-up.
David Roche is a two-time USATF trail national champion, the 2014 U.S. Sub-Ultra Trail Runner of the Year and a member of Team Clif Bar. He works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. Follow David’s daily training on Strava here, and follow him on Twitter here.