Warm Up Before Running: 3 Moves to Fire Up Your Muscles

Do you warm up before running?

🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️FYI...most runners don't.
🙄You might think a slow-and-steady start, or easy first mile or two is all you need.

🦵But if you want to improve performance AND prevent injuries, a proper warm up can make a differnce.

👉In this article, physical therapist Michael Cavanah walks you through THREE moves to warm up before running.

Cold start or warm up before running?

Running is a complex movement that requires muscular strength and endurance to move your body.

Core stability provides your with a solid base to perform dynamic upper and lower body movements to propel yourself forward.

Think about all the movements that happen when you run, like:

  • Arm swing
  • Heel/foot strike
  • Swing phase
  • Stance phase
  • Toe off
  • Forward lean
  • Mix in trail running, and there's even more like side-stepping rocks and roots, and a greater demand for core stability

Due to the complexity of running, it is important to get your body ready to run before you lace up and go.

Cold start vs. warm up before running?

Runners have a tendency to put on their shoes, walk out the door, and start running. You know...

  • The cold start. You think the first few miles of the long run need to begin slowly and progressively increase in speed.

But there's a better way if you want to improve running performance, run more efficienctly, and prevent injuries.

  • Warm up before running. Getting your body ready to run should begin before you hit the start button and take that first stride.  

Below are THREE exercises you can do to get your legs ready to run.🦵🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️

The Sidestep helps strengthen the gluteus medius on the outside of the hip.  Photo by Mike Nielsen @Thrive Fitness. 

1. Sidestep

Ever get tight hips from running?

Yep. That's you and just about every runner out there who neglects training the outside of the hip.

Typically, the more miles you run the tighter the hips get, too.

But there's an effective warm-up exercise that can prepare you to run more efficiently.

🦵The Sidestep.

This exercise focuses on strengthening the gluteus medius.

It's on the outside of the hip, and it's responsible for:

  • Performing hip abduction (lateral movement away from midline)
  • Stabilizing the hip in a neutral position when standing. 

Note: When gluteus medius is not firing properly, one will present with a sway in the hips meaning that the hips move side to side during the run. This sway is referred to as a trendelenberg and can cause injuries such as IT band syndrome and trochanteric bursitis. 

👉To perform the Sidestep:

  • Place a looped resistance band around the ankles.
  • Get into mini squat-position with your feet facing forward and legs spread apart to place slight tension on the band.
  • Keeping your feet facing forward, step in one direction laterally, placing more tension on the band. 
  • Now, slowly bring the opposite foot back to the starting position and repeat. 
  • Count 10-20 reps then retrace your steps going the opposite direction but facing the same direction you started to work the other hip. Repeat for 3-5 sets. 

To make it harder:

  • Simply place the band around the arches of your feet and repeat the process. 

To make it easier:

  • Place the band around your knees. The closer to the hips the resistance is, the easier the exercise due to being in a shortened lever position. 

🔥 The goal of this exercise is to strengthen the gluteus medius and lateral hip musculature, so a slight burn here is a good thing. 

The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL) strengthens the glutes and hamstrings, and improves core strength and balance.  Photo by Mike Nielsen @Thrive Fitness. 

2. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (Bodyweight)

Looking for a way to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and core and improve balance?

This exercise is highly underrated, in my opinion, and not performed by nearly enough runners and athletes. 

The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift requires:

  • Gluteus medius strength to maintain a neutral hip position
  • Eccentric hamstring strength
  • Core stabilization
  • Gluteus maximus strength
  • Single-leg balance

Note: All of these are used during running, so this is perfect to perform in rehabilitation or as a warm up before you go for a run.

 👉To perform the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (bodyweight):

  • Make sure your core is braced and tightened
  • Slowly bend your trunk forward, maintaining a straight spine
  • As you bend forward at the hips, one leg should start to extend behind you. (To prevent any compensations and prevent back injury, picture a rod running from the base of the neck all the way to the foot of the leg extending behind you.
  • Make sure that as you bend forward, the leg extends at the same speed. Also, make sure that your foot is pointing down toward the ground to prevent hip external rotation and maintain a neutral position. 
  • Go down as far as you can while maintaining balance and prevent neural symptoms in the hamstring of the stance leg. 
  • From this position, simply squeeze your glutes together to return to the starting position. As you return to this position remember that the leg and trunk move at the same speed the entire time. 
  • Perform 10 repetitions on each leg for 3 sets before each run. 

To make it harder:

  • Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hand as you bend forward.

The Lunge with March  simulates running in slow motion. This exercise helps improve balance and core stabilization, and builds lower-extremity strength. Photo by Mike Nielsen @Thrive Fitness.

3. Lunge with March

This is usually the last exercise that I prescribe to runners before going out on a run.

Why? It simulates running in slow motion, and it requires:

  • Good balance
  • Core stabilization
  • Complete lower extremity strength

🦵To perform the Lunge with March

  • Step forward with one leg and squat to approximately 90 degrees. 
  • While doing this, make sure that the core is braced/tightened and that your trunk is in an upright position. 
  • Then, come out of the squat by standing up and bringing the trail leg to the front leg. 
  • As you reach the starting position continue to bring the trail leg up into approximately 90 degrees of hip flexion to assume a marching position.
  • Then step forward with that leg and return to a lunge position. Repeat this process approximately 10 times or until you feel ready to run. 

To make it harder:

  • Step up on to a tall box when you raise the trailing leg to March position

Do you warm up before running?

These exercises are three of many that could be part of a "warm up before running" routine, and they address THREE major components to improve running performance: 

  • Single-leg balance 
  • Lower-extremity strength
  • Core activation

These components are critical to being an efficient runner and preventing injuries so you can keep running for a long time.

Do you warm-up before running?

Tell us about your routine in the comments.

Michael Cavanah is a physical therapist and triathlete who lives in South Carolina.

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Michael Cavanah
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Physical therapist and triathlete! Promoting a happy and healthy lifestyle staying involved in multiple sports.


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