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Trying to figure out the best warmup routine for running. I see a few articles that say you shouldn't do any stretching before warming up given cold muscles. This article for example, just states that you should walk and run slowly for a while and this article only discusses stretching as part of cool down. This other beginners article says the same thing but others keep it opened ended as a debate.

So, should I stretch before I run and if so what is a recommended program between stretching and walking, light running to properly avoid injury and have the best workout ?

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6 Answers 6

Neuromuscular Activation and Dynamic Stretching

Here is an excellent video on a dynamic stretching routine for running. It demonstrates 9 dynamic stretches. I've been using this routine several times a week for months now. It is a great way to get warmed up before hitting the road/treadmill/trails. It includes:

  • Walking Deadlifts (Drinking Bird)
  • Knee Hugs
  • Groiners
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Iron Cross
  • Lunge Matrix
  • Leg Swings
  • Lateral Leg Swings

Other dynamic exercises you can do for a warm up include jumping rope, jumping jacks, and some high knees.

In addition to dynamic stretching, and to precede dynamic stretching, I would recommend some neuromuscular activation exercises or NMA. NMA exercises trigger the connection between your brain and your muscles. Studies have shown that the better your brain and muscles are coordinated, the more force (speed) you can obtain.

Save static stretching for the end of your workout, but don't stretch to the point of discomfort. Focus on stretching hip flexors, hamstrings, calfs and gluteus.

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Is there any evidence to support this advice? –  Ben Crowell Nov 30 '13 at 22:52
    
My experience, the very accomplished runner's experience in the video link I provided as well as documented in the USAT Triathlon coaching manual I'm sure there is. –  Ryan Miller Dec 4 '13 at 20:28

Yes, you should stretch before running, but not the sit down and reach kind of stretching. That is called static stretching, and is best done on fully warmed up muscles, at the end of workouts. What you want to do is dynamic stretching, which is the walk and run slowly recommendation. Dynamic stretching is doing motions that mimic what you will be doing in the workout, in gradually increasing intensity.

LEG LIFTS Swing one leg out to the side, then swing it back across your body in front of your other leg. Repeat 10 times on each side. Feel wobbly? Hold onto a steady object.

BUTT-KICKS While standing, walk forward with an exaggerated backswing so that your heels come up to your glutes. When this is easy, try it while jogging. Do 10 reps on each side.

WALKING LUNGES Step forward using a long stride, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes. Lower your body by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Maintain an upright posture and keep your abdominal muscles tight.

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Should probably also note that static stretching is less an less recommended at all, not just before running. –  alesplin Jul 22 '12 at 15:29
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I agree with the answer, but it might be much better if you suggest some specific dynamic stretches for runners. –  VPeric Jul 22 '12 at 15:57
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I'm not sure I agree whether there's any evidence for the need of stretching. Though I guess you could see dynamic stretching as a form of warming up. –  Ivo Flipse Jul 22 '12 at 22:06
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-1 Stretching prior to running is an unneeded waste of energy. Walking prior to running? Certainly. Starting your run at a lower intensity than the finish? Absolutely. Butt-kicks? Nope. Walking Lunges? Nope. –  Aaron McIver Jul 23 '12 at 2:22
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@Aaron - Any sources for this? Pretty much every running warmup I've ever looked at contains variations of those. –  JohnP Jul 23 '12 at 14:28

I have been a runner for about 25 years and do not stretch before running. I use two types of warmup routines based on the type of running.

  • If the run is a distance run I simply begin at a slow jogging pace and speed up as I begin to feel "warm" (sweat and breathing rate are good cues).
  • When I do a sprint workout I begin with a slow lap rotating the following variations, about 20 steps of each: sideways running left, sideways running right, running backwards, high knees, butt kicks (bring heels up to butt). Second lap is a couple 100m "medium" sprints at which point I feel warmed up enough for the full speed exercise.
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Remember the standard advice for all things running: we are an experiment of one and you need to find what works best for you.

You haven't said what distance you're warming up for or if you're talking about racing or merely training.

Stretching

Yes, the research on this is discouraging or, at best, mixed. However, a great many health professionals will advocate for it - based on experience. Personally, I know my body and I know that if I do a certain stretch before I run then I don't get calf tightness. I ignore most other stretching directly before or after running. I do, however, stretch most mornings to keep my back loose.

Racing

If you are preparing to race then the length of your warmup is inversely proportional to the length of the race. So, if you're about to race 5km you might do a 1-2km light run as a warmup. This is so your muscles are in operating condition right at the start and you don't have to wait a minute or two before they're at full speed. However, on an ultra you've got plenty of time for things to get going so nobody bothers.

Training

If you are out to do a speed training session then generally you would want a few kms of a light run first so that your legs are operating at peak. You're speed training to run fast when your legs are in that state so you need to get into that state first.

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According to a recent study, stretching of any kind before running does not aid in the prevention of injury.

The study found that stretching before running neither prevents nor causes injury. In fact, the most significant risk factors for injury included the following:

  • history of chronic injury or injury in the past four months;
  • higher body mass index (BMI); and
  • switching pre-run stretching routines (runners who normally stretch stopping and those who did stretch starting to stretch before
    running).

The conclusion in the above study appears to be the regimen shift more-so than what the regimen actually consists of.

There is another number of notes of studies conducted here; however the actual studies I am having difficulty locating but this gem sticks outs.

Ian Shrier, M.D., a past president of the Canadian Society of Sports Medicine, has been drilling into the stretching literature since the early 1990s. In a 1999 paper titled "Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Reduce the Risk of Local Muscle Injury," Dr. Shrier lists five reasons why stretching shouldn't be expected to work. Among them: stretching won't change eccentric muscle activity (when a muscle simultaneously contracts and lengthens, as in downhill running), which is believed to cause most injuries; stretching can produce damage at the skeletal level; and stretching appears to mask muscle pain, which could cause the exerciser to ignore this key pre-injury signal. He concludes: "The basic science and clinical evidence today suggests that stretching before exercise is more likely to cause injury than to prevent it."

I personally perform absolutely no stretching of any kind prior to my runs. I do on the other hand perform a light walk if I had been sedentary prior to my run for 2 -3 minutes.

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The first study speaks only of static stretching, which is not the same at all as dynamic stretching. We know static stretching reduces sensation and peak output, but that dynamic stretching does not. (I have not, to my recollection, seen injury numbers for dynamic stretching--perhaps my go-to source, Tom Kurz has some, but I don't have his book in front of me.) –  Dave Liepmann Jul 23 '12 at 19:16
    
@DaveLiepmann Specific to running, which the OP asked about and specific to stretching (granted this answer is targeting static stretching) was the goal of this answer. Starting a run off slower than normal and increasing your speed over a given amount of time is arguably the best approach to stretching with regards to running. –  Aaron McIver Jul 23 '12 at 19:24
    
Arguably, but it's semantics. You're describing one type of dynamic stretching, I am describing another. The one thing I found a bit disturbing was that the injury rate was higher if people switched routines, i.e. went from stretching to not, or vice versa. I wish this had been a full study, not just something presented at meeting. –  JohnP Jul 23 '12 at 20:30

It depends on what kind of running you are doing. If you are doing a low intensity distance run, no need to do any stretching or warmup.

If you are doing a more intense aerobic run you should start with a low intensity warmup run (1/2 mile should be sufficient but ultimately it'll be dictated by your fitness level and the workout you are warning up for).

If you are doing high intensity running like max effort sprints you should do an ascending warmup with some dynamic stretching. You should be sweating after this warmup.

Save the static stretches for after your run.

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