The Best Running Warm-Up for Your Next Cardio Session

Chances are, when you think “cardio,” you think “run.” When my clients want to start incorporating some form of cardio, their natural inclination is usually to hop onto a treadmill. Although the barrier to entry seems pretty low, warming up for a run is more than simply lacing up your shoes.

A dynamic warm-up is meant to physically prepare your body for exercise — the more specific the preparation, the better. However, concurrent training and other lifestyle influences can make your running warm-up a bit hard to pin down. Here’s how to do your run stretches effectively.

How to Warm Up Before Running

A warm-up routine aims to improve your range of motion, get your blood pumping, and potentially reduce your overall risk of injury. In many cases, it also strives to boost performance by fine-tuning your running form and locking in your full-body mobility and stability. 

A general warm-up helps with your overall body temperature and blood flow whereas a dynamic warm-up is more specific to the day’s workout. Your dynamic warm-up for running or general leg day may well incorporate movements like lunges or high knees. 

[Read More: Try This Dynamic Warm-Up for Running]

No one warm-up is the same. If you’ve got tight ankles, for example, you might spend more time there than your running buddy with tight hips. But there are some crucial areas of your body to consider across the board.

The Best Running Warm-Up

The best running warm-up accounts for the major muscle groups of the lower body — your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves are all incredibly important. You’re also going to pay attention to your ankle, knee, and hip joints.

[Read More: The Best 8 Stretches to Do Before a Run, According to a CPT]

When you dive into the specifics of your pre-run warm-up, you’ll be refining your form and ensuring that areas like your hip flexors and lower back are stable for your next run.

The Warm-Up

Your warm-up, although important, need not be overly time-consuming before every run. Generally speaking, you won’t need to spend more than 10 minutes or so here.

The goal is to mobilize your full body and physically warm up for your run— but it needn’t be as refined as a professional track and field warm-up routine. A proper warm-up for a run is as simple as a few stretches and a few dynamic warm-up exercises.

[Read More: Do You Really Need a 30-Minute Warm-Up?]

Spend a couple of minutes in your general warm-up getting loose first. That might be some walking, very slow jogging, or even just some leg swings. Then, get into your run-specific, less-than-10-minute warm-up.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Seated Pigeon Pose

Walking World’s Greatest Stretch

High Knee

Butt Kick

Walking Lunge

Perform these as a superset.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

The kneeling hip flexor stretch helps alleviate any tightness in the hip flexors before starting your run. It also starts stabilizing your core and pelvis because it draws on your glutes to position your hips correctly. The kneeling hip flexor stretch is hard to beat since it requires no equipment and targets one of the most common problem areas during running.

How to Do It: 

Line up near a bench or a wall. Place a hand on it for stability as needed.

Take a half-kneeling stance with your right leg forward and bent to 90 degrees at your knee. Your left leg should have your knee on the ground with your leg trailing behind your body.

Keep your ribcage stacked neatly over your hips and flex your glutes with particular emphasis on your left side. Flex your glute until your left hip is fully extended.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds before swapping sides.


Make it Easier: Place a foam pad or yoga block under your down knee and extend your hip, leaving a bit of space before locking out.

Make it Harder: Place your back foot on a weight bench or use a strap to loop around your ankle. Lightly extend your back leg for a deeper stretch — but go slow!

Coach’s Tip: Be sure not to lean excessively backward to search for a deeper stretch. Once your hip is fully extended with a flexed glute, you’re in the best spot. 

Seated Pigeon Pose

The seated pigeon pose is a stretch that targets the glutes. Not only are they heavily involved in running, but they are also notoriously tight from daily life or other training within typical programs. The seated pigeon pose is a nice moderate version of the stretch that allows you to keep your hips mobile and ready for your run.

How to Do It: 

Find a medium-height box or bench to sit on. Your hips and knees should be bent to approximately 90 degrees when you’re sitting on it.

Keep one knee bent to 90 degrees and figure-four your opposite ankle across it.

With a tall posture, hinge forward at your hips to find a stretch across the glutes.


Make it Easier: Relax the top leg to reduce the amount of stretch, or lean forward slightly less.

Make it Harder: Hinge deeper to find a bigger stretch or press down on the knee and up slightly on the ankle. Bring your arms out to the sides if needed to accommodate your stomach as you deepen your hinge.

Coach’s Tip: The goal is to maintain a hinge. If you round forward, you’ll start to lose out on some of the stretch. 

Walking World’s Greatest Stretch

[Read More: 5 Minute Mobility: This Stretching Routine Is Perfect When You’re Low on Time]

The world’s greatest stretch is a dynamic stretching staple. It incorporates most (if not all) the major muscle groups for running and also has a rotational component involved for good measure. Performing the walking version is the perfect bridge between your general warm-up components and your more specific running warm-up series.

How to Do It: 

Take a long deep lunge stride with your left leg.

Hold this deep lunge position and place your right hand on the ground.

While in a deep lunge, rotate your thoracic spine to face your left leg. Reach up with your left arm to complete the rotation.

Hold this position for a brief moment before repeating it on the opposite side. Complete for equal repetitions per side.


Make it Easier: Take a shorter lunge stride per leg and rotate your thoracic spine with your hands clasped in front of your chest.

Make it Harder: Perform an inch-worm exercise to slowly walk toward the lunge position on each repetition. Try to stay light on your fingers.

Coach’s Tip: Don’t overdo the stride length or rotation of your stretch. You should feel a moderate stretch but you’re not trying to force excessive rotation.

High Knee

[Read More: The Best Leg Stretches to Bolster Your Lower Body Training]

High knees are an excellent start to the most dynamic part of the warm-up. They draw on your hip flexors and glutes, add some increased pace to the routine, and get your heart rate up. High knees begin to mimic many of the positions (albeit exaggerated) and impact that your run places on your body, as well.

How to Do It: 

Take an athletic stance while standing in a tall posture.

While on the balls of your toes, draw one knee up toward your chest explosively.

Forcefully extend your knee and hip back toward the ground.

Repeat the same technique on the opposite leg, rapidly alternating between sides with no gap between repetitions.


Make it Easier: Perform these seated, potentially on the edge of a weight bench or stable chair, to ease into the top half of the movement.

Make it Harder: Begin slowly moving forward during the high knees without breaking the technique. You can add a step-up to the first part of the movement, too.

Coach’s Tip: High knees should be explosive, so put everything into each repetition performed. They are rapid movements and are meant to be quick.

Butt Kick

[Read More: How To Build Stamina for Running: Tips + Benefits]

Butt kicks are the perfect pairing with high knees. They help to more completely mimic an exaggerated running technique (along with high knees), dynamically and explosively work the running musculature, and help increase your heart rate and blood flow. And they do it all with just your body weight.

How to Do It: 

Take an athletic stance while standing in a tall posture.

While on the balls of the toes, kick one leg back and try to kick your own butt.

Repeat the same technique with your opposite leg, rapidly alternating between sides with no gap between repetitions.


Make it Easier: Slow the pace down of the butt kicks or take a short break after the high knees. Hold onto a stable anchor in front of you for added balance.

Make it Harder: Increase your pace, repetition count, or begin marching forward slowly during the butt kicks.

Coach’s Tip: Butt kicks are a great example of dynamic stretching for your hip flexors. The closer you get to kicking your own butt, the more dynamic stretch you’ll create.

Walking Lunge

The walking lunge is an inescapable reality of your training. While typically viewed as a leg-builder for a strength or muscle hypertrophy program, the dynamic warm-up world makes great use of them as well. Walking lunges hit your quads, glutes, core, grip (if you’re using weights), and even your cardiovascular system as a nice final stop before running. They also mimic an exaggerated form of your gait during running and challenge stability — all at once!

How to Do It: 

Take a medium to long step forward on one leg.

Plant the walking foot heel first before rocking forward to even foot pressure.

Slowly descend into the lunge aiming for at least 90 degrees of knee bend on your lead leg.

Maintain even foot pressure and stand back up by flexing your quads and glutes. In one smooth motion, step forward with your opposite leg and repeat for repetitions.


Make it Easier: Take a narrower stride or come to a complete standing position for a second between each repetition.

Make it Harder: Add dumbbells to your walking lunge for a load and stability challenge.

Coach’s Tip: Walking lunges are an exercise in themselves so be mindful not to overdo them. We’re looking to use them as a dynamic warm-up, so choose a weight that accomplishes that without overly fatiguing your legs.

Benefits of a Running Warm-Up

Warming up is a crucial part of any workout, and that includes running. A good warm-up can potentially help mitigate injury risk, mentally and physically prepare you for a strenuous workout, and give added time for skill development.

Reduced Injury Risk

Although injuries are impossible to completely avoid, it is always a good idea to reduce the risk as much as possible. Making sure that your running muscles and technique are tuned up before taking on the task of the day is one of the best ways to do just that. A warmer tissue is more compliant to your movement and many tweaks or injuries may occur simply because you’re too cold — physically and mentally — at the start to lock in proper form.

Mental and Physical Preparation

Our daytime activities are a wild card when it comes to training. What we’re doing for work, hobbies, or simply your commute to the gym or running trail impacts your need to warm up.

[Read More: 6 Stretches and Warm-ups to Improve Ankle Mobility]

Being stiff from sitting all day is the perfect example, tied closely with being distracted by work or other responsibilities. A well-designed warm-up is the perfect opportunity to alleviate any restrictions from your daily postures but also clear your mind of any distractions.

Skill Development

Running is a skill in the same way that squatting is a skill. Having more opportunities to refine your execution helps with movement efficiency and running economy when the main event arrives. Dynamic bodyweight exercises like butt kicks, high knees, and walking lunges help hone in on your position, control, and technique.


Now that we know how important running warm-ups are, let’s take on some frequently asked questions.

How should I warm up before a run?

Pair general movement prep — like kneeling hip-flexor stretches — with more dynamic, running-specific warm-up flows including butt kicks and walking lunges. Moves like lunges will get your ankles and hips warmed up, while also waking up your cardiovascular system to ease into your workout.

Is it OK to run without a warm-up?

Are you going to spontaneously combust if you start a run without a warm-up? Likely not. Is it the best idea? Also no.

If you’re seriously pressed for time (or patience), a slower run is a possible warm-up that allows us to ramp up to the working pace. Running slower for five to 10 minutes before hitting your stride is one strategy — but wherever possible, try to implement a truly structured warm-up.

How long should my pre-run warm-up be?

A good pre-run warm-up should be comprehensive yet extremely efficient. Any warm-up is already occupying time that you’d likely rather be working out, so aim for a strong series or circuit that gets the job done in just around 10 minutes or so. Anything longer may chip away at daily motivation or your ability to stay consistent.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

The post The Best Running Warm-Up for Your Next Cardio Session appeared first on BarBend.


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