[Video] Running: warm up and cool down exercises

profile picture of Anika Kainth
Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Bupa
24 May 2024
Next review due May 2027

Not sure how to warm up or cool down before and after running? Here I share two short warm up and cool down video routines to help you get the most from your runs.

Starting and ending each run with a few simple movements can improve your performance and prevent common running injuries. The exercises in these videos will also help you to stay flexible and recover more quickly afterwards.

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What does the evidence say?

It appears that different types of movements are best for the warmup and cool down period.

Warm up routine

Dynamic stretching is recommended for running warmups. This is because they work your muscles and joints through their full range of movement. This can help you to run more efficiently afterwards. Researchers have also noticed that runners who do dynamic stretching before a run can keep their pace for longer than those who don’t.

Cool down routine

An effective cool down should focus more on static stretching. This is when you hold muscles in a fixed position for 30 seconds or more, increasing your flexibility. Static stretching is not encouraged for warm up routines because it has been linked to an increased risk of injury.

Pre-run warm up exercises

This short, dynamic stretching routine focuses on the muscles you use during running. It should take 5 to 10 minutes and activates the large muscle groups you need when running. These include:

  • the group of muscles in the front of your thigh (quads)
  • the group of muscles in the back of your thigh (hamstrings)
  • your calf muscle (gastrocnemius)
  • the group of muscles near the top of your thigh (hip flexors)
  • the muscles in your bottom (glutes)

For a longer warmup just repeat this routine. You could also start with some light aerobic work to loosen up your muscles and warm up for a run, examples include:

  • walking briskly
  • marching on the spot
  • jogging
  • cycling

1. Arm circles

Arm circles are a great way to warm up your shoulders before a run. From standing, slowly swing your arms forward in a circular motion. Start with small circles and slowly build up to larger circles. Continue the movement for 30 seconds. Then circle your arms in the opposite direction.

2. Leg swings

Leg swings are good for preventing tightness around the hip flexors and hamstrings. Standing in a straight and fixed position swing your left leg forwards and backwards. You may need to hold onto something to balance. Do this movement for 15 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.

3. Standing knee hug/ Marching on the spot

This move activates your glutes and hamstrings to open up your running stride. Stand straight with your arms by your sides. Pull your left knee up as close as you can towards your chest. Keep your glutes stretched up to pelvis level. Hold this stretch for at least 20 seconds. Slowly release your leg and repeat on the other side.

4. Standing kickback

The standing kickback is another great move for your glutes. Lean slightly forward and draw your left knee up towards the chest while bringing the right arm forward. Kick your left leg back behind you while swinging your left arm forward and right arm back (as if you are running). Do this movement for 15 seconds. Then swap to the other leg and repeat.

5. Butt kicks

Butt kicks help to stretch the hamstring muscles that power your running motion. Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Slowly bring one heel off the floor and back towards your glutes. Then switch to the other side. Perform this motion a few more times, alternating heels and building up speed. Do it for at least 30 seconds.

6. Standing side lunge

This is a great move for working your inner thigh muscles, as well as your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Stand with your feet wider than your hips. Bend your left knee into a side lunge, keeping your right leg straight as you stretch your inner thigh and groin. Hold for 15 seconds. Then repeat on the opposite leg.

Post-run cool down stretches

After you run, you can cool down with a slow jog or a walk. You can also try our short cool down stretching routine to prevent injury after a run. It will also help you to improve your flexibility. If you feel any discomfort or pain when doing these stretches, stop and speak to a GP or physiotherapist. For a longer cool-down just repeat this routine.

1. Slow jog

When you finish your run, slow down to an easy jog or walk to bring your heart rate down.

Do this for 2 to 5 minutes before starting your cool down stretches.

2. Hip flexor stretch

This move stretches out your hip flexors to help prevent muscle tightness and reduce your risk of injury. Lean forward and plant your left leg forward. Keep your back leg straight and behind. Slowly bend your front leg forward until you feel a stretch across the top of your hips. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Change sides and repeat.

3. Hamstring stretch

The hamstrings are important for running as they help you to bend your knees and move your hips. Lean forward slowly with your right leg in front, straight and toes pointing up. Keep your left leg behind and place your hands on your hips. Bend towards your left leg. You should feel a stretch in the back of your leg (hamstrings). Do this for 10 to 15 seconds. Change sides and repeat.

4. Quad stretch

The quad muscles in front of your thigh are used a lot when you run. Hold your right foot with your right hand and lift the foot up and back towards your bottom. Keep your knees and thighs together during this stretch. Hold it there for 10 to 20 seconds. Change sides and repeat.

5. Lower back stretch

Lie on your back and place both feet flat on the floor. Lift and pull your right knee towards your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back. Hold this move for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat with the other leg. Then, pull both knees in towards your chest. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.

Running training programmes

Check out Bupa’s range of running programmes which aim to suit all abilities and goals. You can find training plans that range from running 5km and 10 miles to full marathons.

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

profile picture of Anika Kainth
Anika Kainth
Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Bupa

    • Taichi Yamaguchi, Kazuki Takizawa, Keisuke Shibata. Acute Effect of Dynamic Stretching on Endurance Running Performance in Well-Trained Male Runners. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017; DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000969
    • Van hooren B, Peake JM. Do We Need a Cool-Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response. Sports Med. 2018;48(7):1575-1595. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0916-2
    • Mcgowan CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, Rattray B. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med. 2015;45(11):1523-46. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x

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