The Perfect Running Warm-Up: 5 Best Mobility Exercises for Runners

In many respects, what you do before your run is nearly as important as the run itself. Warming up your muscles and joints with a short, yet effective mobility routine allows for a more fluid run, less risk of injury, and an improved range of motion in the long term. Below is the mobility routine that I prescribe to my runners to maximize these benefits.

5 Pre-Run Stretches and Exercises for Mobility

1. Overhead Squats

I love to see athletes do overhead squats, as they fire up the entire kinetic chain from the base of the skull all the way to their feet. Getting your entire body connected and moving fluidly is a great way to start the day or to get ready for a workout — running or otherwise.

Start with 1 set x 10 reps. Once your range of motion improves, you can move this to 2 sets x 15 reps or just 1 set x 20 reps.

  • Using a broom handle, a towel, PVC pipe, or whatever you have available, extend your arms overhead. Do your best to keep your arms straight and your elbows locked.
  • Start slow and if you can’t do a full squat at first, just go as deep as you can comfortably.
  • Over time, your goal is to do this movement with a straight back, arms fully extended overhead, and a deep squat.
  • It may take weeks to get to a fully extended arm position and a deep squat but it will be well worth the effort.

2. Knee Bends

This is a quick and easy exercise to warm the calf muscles and improve the mobility of your ankles and knees to ensure a better stride.

Start with 8-10 reps and build to 15 reps for each leg. If you have one ankle that is not as fluid as the other, do a few extra reps to improve the mobility on that side. Once you feel comfortable with this movement you can do 2 sets x 15 reps for each leg.

  • If you use a wall, start with your foot about 2 inches from the wall, and try to extend your knee to the wall.
  • Keep your knee directly over your foot during this exercise.
  • Starting out, you may not have a lot of mobility, but over time, you will see improvement.

3. Front Lunge

This is another quick and easy movement to improve the range of motion in your ankle, knee, and hip. Not to mention, it’s a great stability exercise as well and it will fire up your core and stabilizer muscles.

Start with 1 set x 3-5 reps if lunges aren’t part of your regular routine, and then work that up to 2 sets x 12 reps per leg. If one side is weaker, then do a few extra reps on that side.

  • Stepping forward, keep your front shin at a 90-degree angle to the ground and let your back knee just touch the ground behind you.
  • Keep your front knee directly over your ankle and keep your back as straight as possible.
  • Push off your front foot to get back to a standing position.

4. Side Lunge

Runners and triathletes are notorious for only doing exercises that move them forwards. Learning to move your body in all planes will activate stabilizer muscles and help you generate more balance.

Start with 1 set x 3-5 reps if you haven’t been making side lunges and then work up to 2 sets of x12 reps per leg. If one side is weaker, then do a few extra reps on that side.

  • Start by keeping your left leg straight and step out to the right at a comfortable distance.
  • Then, bend your right knee and try to keep your back as straight as possible.
  • Do your best to drop your backside onto an invisible chair and try to keep your knee directly over your ankle.
  • Do the same movement for the opposite side.

5. Leg Swings

Leg swings help open your hips up, give a slight stretch to the hamstrings, and help with balance and coordination. Start with five leg swings on each side, just feeling out what your movement is and how it feels on your hamstring. Once you feel comfortable with this movement, you can do 1 set x 10 reps on your right leg, then 1 set x 10 reps on the left, then repeat for two sets total.

Place your hands on a wall or pole in front of you. Keep one leg straight and then swing the opposite leg from side to side in front of you. You’ll feel how much range of motion you have pretty quickly, so don’t push it past anything that creates a lot of tension in the hamstring. A little tension is normal and as you progress this will become easier and you will see some nice improvements in your range of motion. Be sure to start out easy and build this movement.

This set of pre-run stretches and exercises will take you about 3-7 minutes total and will give you more mobility in your ankles, knees, and hips, providing more stability across your whole body. Warming up like this before each run provides a lot of benefits to your running with regards to feeling lighter, and moving easier, and it may even help your run pace improve as well. As we sit more and move less during the day, we need these simple movements to help us put our bodies into position for a pain-free and injury-free run!

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