Broad Street Run Training: What an Effective Runner’s Warm-Up Looks Like

If you’ve ever run a race before, odds are you’ve seen the runners jogging, jumping, marching, and even sprinting before the race starts. Perhaps you were thinking, “They’re elite runners. I don’t need to do that stuff. I’ll save my energy for the race.” True: You most likely won’t need to be as thorough as elite runners, but everyone does need a good warm-up. It’s absolutely essential for peak performance and helping you handle those first few miles a bit more easily.

A proper warm-up prepares your muscular, cardiovascular and nervous systems for the demands of running. The goal of a good warm-up is to raise your core body temperature, loosen up, increase blood flow to your muscles and trigger the neural pathway between your brain and muscles. My high school coach, Jim McCoach (Yes, his real name is Coach McCoach) would always tell us we should be breaking a slight sweat during our warm-up.

You won’t need to warm up before every singly run, but it should become part of your normal training program. On easy running days, you can skip the warm-up and let the first 10 to 20 minutes of easy running act as your warm-up instead. But on days you’re planning on running a bit harder, you’ll definitely want to add a proper warm-up into the mix. A proper runner’s warm-up involves a combination of these three types of exercises:

  1. 5 to 20 minutes of walking or running
  2. 5 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretching and drills.
  3. 4 to 8 short bursts of speed lasting roughly 10 to 25 seconds (This one’s for intermediate and advanced runners only; if you’re a newbie, skip it.)

You’ll want to practice your warm-up routine in your training, so when race day comes you know exactly what works for you. Play around with different variations of exercises and durations until you find one that you like and what works for you. Once you’ve got one, make it a ritual you perform before every race or hard workout.

Here are some further guidelines for how to perform a proper runner’s warm-up, including stretching.

  • Vary the duration of your warm-up according to the duration of your race. You’ll want to limit the amount of energy you spend warming up, depending on how much time you’ll be running. So, the longer you’re running, the shorter your warm-up should be. For example, if you’re planning on running over 1:45:00, limit your warm-up to a light 5-minute walk/jog and some dynamic stretching drills.
  • Use dynamic stretching before your runs. Research has found you should avoid static stretching (holding poses for eight seconds or more) prior to exercise.
  • On race day, stay warm in the corral. This is an important one that I find most runners get wrong. If it’s chilly out (see past race-day temps), don’t stand around in shorts and a T-shirt waiting for the race to begin. Wear pants and a long-sleeve top you’re willing to toss away at the start of the race. Look to keep the clothes on ‘til just before your start. In many races, the tossed clothing gets donated, so you’re doing some good, too!
  • Reduce muscle tightness and soreness with lunges. Running on sore muscles is fine and even encouraged. To help reduce soreness, ease tightness and activate your glutes try a series of forward and side lunges before you run. A common used lunge routine is the Lunge Matrix. This is also good to do if you’re stuck waiting in the corral before a race for more than 15 minutes.


Cory Smith, a Philadelphia based running coach, shares his expert advice as an American Cancer Society DetermiNation running coach; founder of Run Your Personal Best, a private running-coaching business; and head cross country coach at Penn State Brandywine. He is a USA Track and Field-certified coach and a 4:03 miler. As a student athlete at Villanova, Cory was an NCAA Division One Regional and National Championship qualifier. Contact Cory at Read all of Cory’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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