We’ve all watched the hardo at the track pound an energy drink and immediately launch into a sprint workout. We’ve also seen a distance runner pull up at the park, hop out of their car and take off on a trail run without thinking twice.
There’s no denying this cold-start technique seems to work for some runners.
But is there any value to a regimented warm-up before running and is it different for a training run and a race? If so, why then is there sometimes an unspoken consensus amongst some running groups that it’s not necessary to warm up before running?
A better performance should be more impressive than skipping a warm-up.
Sure, karaokes, high knees and lunges across a field can look a bit ridiculous, but this is running – a better performance should be more impressive than skipping a warm-up.
To get the scoop on whether a warm-up before running is a must-do or nice-to-have, we caught up with Polar athlete Will Leer. He’s a professional mid-distance track athlete with a USA Indoor National Championship title in both the 3000 meter and the mile.
Below, Leer discusses how he monitors his warm-up metrics and outlines some of his go-to exercises and techniques. Let’s just say, his warm-up pace is many runners’ dream race pace.
How common is it that runners skip warm up before running? And do pros do that, too?
A lot of runners tend to skirt around a proper warm-up and I often come back to the question, “What do the professionals do?”
Every pro I know at the very least “warms up” into a run. If a runner is opposed to doing a set of dedicated warm-up exercises, you will often see that person start their run at a substantially slower pace than they finish.
Are there any long-term impacts to warming up or not warming up before a run? Can warming up prevent or cause injury, and/or boost or inhibit performance?
While I am not a doctor, the commonly held belief is that warming up drastically reduces the occurrence of injuries, be it muscle, tendon or bone. I have never heard of someone getting hurt from a warm-up. And if a person’s goal is performance oriented, then I would classify warming up as essential.
Do you warm up before a training run or race? Do most pros warm up?
As one of the older, more experienced athletes in the world of professional track and field, I do basically the same warm-up routine before every single run. Whether it is an easy, recovery run, workout or race, the exercises are the same.
The goal here is to wake up the body, make sure my body is awake on a neuromuscular level and minimize injuries to the best of my ability.
Personally, I don’t know a pro who doesn’t do some sort of warm up before running.
What are some of your go-to warm-ups before running?
Leg swings, light core exercises and lunges. You can’t go wrong with any of those. In terms of cooling down, I tend to focus on active-isolated stretching.
Are there specific metrics you’re monitoring when you’re warming up for a run?
When I am doing the running portion of my warm-up, usually 20 minutes of easy jogging before any hard session, I monitor my heart rate to make sure it doesn’t get too high and running pace to make sure I am not going too slow.
What tools do you use to monitor these metrics?
I use my Polar Vantage V. In the easy to read interface, it tells me which HR zone I am in and how fast I am running. Generally my warm-up pace is between 6:40/mile and 7:30/mile with a HR under 140 bpm.
Does your warm-up change based on the distance or training load? How does warming up for a 5K differ from warming up for a marathon?
Short answer: yes. For shorter, more intense workouts, my warm-up will always include the same warm-up exercises but then maybe five to six miles of running starting off easy and progressing the pace.
For longer, threshold type workouts, we tend to stick to the standard three miles or 20 minutes of easy jogging. I have never run a marathon, but I imagine most pros at least jog 10 minutes and do a fair amount of activation drills.
Is it better to do a shorter or longer warm-up before running? Is there an optimal time range?
It depends, as I said previously, there are a variety of warm-ups one can do. The most general warm-up is 20 minutes of easy jogging.
But if that doesn’t work for you, feel free to do more or less depending on what your body needs.
This is also another component of doing workouts to prepare for racing: You have to find what works best for you — everyone is different, embrace your uniqueness.
What should you focus on while warming up – elevating HR, mobility or mix it up?
I’m a big fan of mixing things up. As you experiment with different types of warm-ups, certain things will stick out as being most beneficial.
Does incorporating three to four minutes of threshold running at the end of your 20-minute jog help to give your heart rate a quick spike and really feel like your engine is ready to fire? Or does it make your legs and body feel sluggish?
Do 15-second sprints allow your legs to reach a more full range of motion and make race pace feel like a breeze? Or are you left breathing heavily and wishing you’d simply done some light stretching?
My main focus in a warm-up before running is keeping the feel light, bright and positive. Inevitably, there is something hard following the warm-up, so just get ready to get TOUGH!
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.