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I've recently started running and I'm having a hard time distinguishing warm-up from stretching exercises. I've read that I should do warm-up before running and stretch after running. Is that correct?

Also, could you point out a few good warm-up methods that I can do without equipment at home before I start running? I know I could warm up while running, but it's becoming cold outside, so I would like to warm up before leaving the house ...

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I've read that I should do warm-up before running and stretch after running. Is that correct?

Yes. Do that.

Warm up by running slowly and gradually increasing the pace, or with dynamic stretching movements like lunges, air squats, leg swings, running sideways or backwards, swinging the arms, and trunk rotations.

  • While I'm sure this answer is solid, why not elaborate on why this is the preferred approach? – Alec Nov 30 '14 at 18:29
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    @Aleksander Because I often try to match the level of research in an answer to the level of research in the question. There's nothing wrong with responding to a halfhearted question with a home-run answer, but lots of questioners are just double-checking something and aren't interested in extreme detail. – Dave Liepmann Nov 30 '14 at 22:16
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You are basically looking at the difference between static stretching, which is the traditional "sit, reach and hold" type that everyone is familiar with, and dynamic stretching, which is movement gradually increasing in amplitude that mimics the activity about to be done.

What Dave and Michael are suggesting is dynamic stretching. Absolutely do this if you want to do a warmup first. You can also just start running at a highly reduced rate until you are warmed up. Static stretching can be done after, although most studies show no improvement in performance with improvement in flexibility. It's generally recommend to help treat tight areas that are hindering performance or for some injury rehabilitation.

Static stretching before activity has been associated with increased injury risk by aggressively stretching muscles that are cold and tight, and has also been shown to decrease actual performance.

Dynamic before, static after if desired/needed, never do ballistic, and unless you need extreme flexibility (gymnastics, martial arts, dance, etc.), ignore PNF (Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching.

  • This is a good summary of the different types of stretching. But I think you should emphasize that stretching is not a substitute for warming up properly. – Tim Biegeleisen Dec 3 '14 at 23:16
  • @TimBiegeleisen - No need to emphasize, as I noted that Dave and Michaels excellent answers already covered that, and that that type of warmup is absolutely recommended if you do a warmup. – JohnP Dec 4 '14 at 4:52
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Focus on performing a dynamic warm up first. It is involves activating the working muscles and taking them through a full range of motion. Running with high knees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, duck unders. These are a lot more effective than static stretching.

  • Actually, static stretching when "cold" before a workout has been contraindicated for quite some time. – JohnP Dec 3 '14 at 18:08
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Warming up is performed before a performance or practice. Athletes, singers, actors and others warm up before stressing their muscles.A warm up generally consists of a gradual increase in intensity in physical activity.So WARM UP is ALWAYS DONE BEFORE WORK OUT. On the other hand Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. Research shows that stretching the muscle you’re about to train can cause a significant loss of strength during your lifts. In other words, you may cause yourself to utilize less weight than you are capable of simply because you stretched the muscle beforehand. So stretching should always be done during or after the workout to achieve a comfortable muscle tone.

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Marty Liquori, in his 1982 book Real Running, discusses both warming up and stretching. He says that stretching is "overrated, period," except in the case of an injury area. This was at least a view held by many elite distance runners at the time of the book's publication. But Liquori does stress the importance of warming up before a run. Even an elite runner might take 12 minutes to complete the first mile, and Liquori urges lesser runners to follow suit. For reference, Liquori once held the American record in the mile with a time 3:51.

When you first start running, especially in the morning, your tendon-muscle complexes will be relatively short. This makes them prone to tearing and other damage. By easing into a run slowly, you give your body a chance to literally morph into a form which can better handle the abuse you are about to give it.

Believe it or not, you actually warm up faster when it's cold outside, because your body increases blood flow to your internal areas, at the cost of cold hands and feet.

As a semi-competitive triathlete myself, and former long distance runner, when I go on a run I usually do some light stretching after warming up, if for no other reason than it feels good.

  • -1. Your ligaments don't really get "long" and "short". Ligaments are pretty static length, and connect bone to bone. Tendons connect muscle to bone, and that is what you are "loosening" when warming up, is the muscle/tendon complex. Also, just curious, if your body shunts blood away from the extremities to the core/trunk, how does that help working leg muscles warm up? – JohnP Dec 3 '14 at 18:13

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