It’s hard enough to overcome the lure of a cozy bed for an early a.m. run or to squeeze in a four-miler after work. But on top of it, we constantly hear that we should tack on a 20-minute prerun warmup, too. The reality is that’s not happening: A recent poll of Runner’s World Instagram followers confirmed that most—er, 75 percent—forgo a proper prerun warmup routine. So does doing one actually benefit your run that much?
Benefits of a running warmup
According to a study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, warming up is definitely beneficial. Researchers split a group of 36 athletes into three groups: those who did a 20-minute bicycling warmup before performing weighted lunges, those who only did a cool-down, and those who did neither. Everyone was given a pain threshold test on the two days following to determine muscle soreness, and guess what? The group who warmed up had the highest pain threshold and reported relatively ache-free muscles.
There’s a big difference between that bicycling warmup and simply taking it slow the first mile into your run, too, says Katie Dundas, a doctor of physical therapy at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Both cycling and running keep blood moving to bigger muscles in the legs, which is important in a warmup, but the cycling also provides a dynamic stretch to the hamstrings and quadriceps,” she says. “A light jog doesn’t offer that same stretch and response movement.”
So if there’s no question that a warmup gives you bonus benefits, the real Q becomes: “How long do I need to actually do it for?” And it’s a good-news answer: Warming up for just 10 minutes may work as well as a session lasting 20 minutes or more, so long as that time is spent on focused, dynamic movement. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when scientists analyzed velocity, heart rate, oxygen intake, and rate of perceived exertion in endurance runners, they noted no significant differences in most categories between the two protocols.
That may be the most important reason to warm up. As we age, muscle elasticity decreases, and Dundas says warming up properly expands your range of motion to help counteract those deficits. So here’s a super quick and easy five-minute prerun warmup you can use before every run.
How to use this list: These six dynamic moves from Dundas are demonstrated by Jess Movold, Runner’s World+ Run Coach, so you can learn the proper form. Perform each for 30 seconds to one minute at the start of every run. Then consider your running engine officially revved.
Quad + Piriformis Walk
Targets: Quads, glutes, piriformis
Start standing then draw left foot up behind you, pulling toward your butt for a quad stretch. Release and step forward; switch legs. After 30 seconds, cradle right leg at ankle and knee, pulling up to chest. Release and step forward; switch legs. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Targets: Deep hip external rotators
From standing, bend right knee and lift knee to hip level, then rotate the knee out to 90 degrees. (Place hand over knee to stabilize and guide if needed.) Bring leg back to front; lower foot, and switch sides. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Targets: Chest, deltoids, upper back
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and lift arms out to shoulder height, palms down. Make small circles; after 30 seconds, switch direction. Continue for another 30 seconds.
Start standing with feet together. Extend right leg straight out in front of you as you bring left hand to tap right toes. Lower leg and step forward; repeat on opposite side. Continue for 30 seconds.
Leg Crossover + Scorpion
Targets: Lower back, hamstrings, hip flexors
Lie faceup, legs straight and arms out. Lift right leg up and across your body, tapping foot to the floor. Return to start; repeat on other side. After 30 seconds, flip over to lie facedown and perform a Scorpion.
Lie facedown. Draw left leg up and cross it over your body so that left foot is nearly in line with right hip. Hold for a breath or two, then return to start. Repeat on other side and continue to alternate for 30 seconds.
Targets: Core, deltoids, hamstrings
From standing, bend forward at the waist to touch toes, then walk hands out to a high plank. Hold for 2 seconds; walk feet to meet hands. Roll up to starting position. Repeat for 1 minute.