Should you really bother warming up for a run?

Mary Jennings: Giving yourself time to transition into a run can make a huge difference to your performance

Does your running warm-up consists of a 30-second walk and a few half-hearted stretches while you wait for your watch to find a GPS signal? If so, you are not alone. Many runners admit to cutting corners on warm-ups and just want to get running as soon as fresh air hits their face. They may even feel stiff, tight and uncomfortable in the first mile of their run but are happy to accept this as normal.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

A waste of time?

If you want to truly get the most out of your run on any given day, can I encourage you to pay particular attention to what you say to yourself and how you move in the 10 minutes before you actually start running. I know your time is precious but just giving yourself time to transition into a run can make a huge difference to your running performance. You will be more focused, strong, determined and comfortable once you start running. You will notice niggles long before they become injuries and be more open to adapting your run to how you are feeling rather than being a slave to your watch or training plan. In a nutshell, you will get a lot more out of your run than just ticking it off your to-do list.

Rushing to the start line

The days when I least enjoy my run are those when I’m running late to meet someone. When I have jumped out of a car, having been delayed in traffic and literally hit the ground running, I’m more likely to get injured or generally feel frustrated at how running feels. When I’m stressed, my body is tense and is almost in shock from moving suddenly from sitting bent over a steering wheel to running. It takes me the second half of the run to recover from the first. What really has my body achieved in that run? Remembering that I don’t want my everyday runs to feel like this is a constant reminder to build in just a few minutes warm-up before I run to prepare for what lies ahead.


Focused on the finish

With everyone leading such busy lives, there can be days when we hardly think about the fact we are running at all. We are often distracted, mentally focusing on just getting the run “done”. We go from one task to the next without much consideration for our boy. So whether we are just out of bed, getting up from 8 hours at a desk or fitting in a quick 30 minutes after a stressful school run, give yourself the benefits of a few minutes to help your body transition to running. To get the best out of any activity – be it a zoom meeting, an interview, a supermarket shop or even a run – it’s best to do a little bit of prep.

More than a few stretches

We can discuss the best “physical” warm-ups in a moment, it can be really helpful to also make sure our mind is prepared to run. As you pop on your running gear, take a moment to notice how you are framing the run in your head. Maybe you are looking forward to it or you might even be perceiving it as a chore or hassle. Ask yourself the following questions: What is my plan for my run today? Where do I feel tension or stress? What’s my energy like? What do I want to pay attention to on my run? How do I want to feel after my run? It’s only natural that some days we are more enthusiastic about our training than others. But if you can pay attention to what your mind and body is telling you, you can set yourself up for a more successful run.

Get the muscles moving

Once the head is in the right place, loosen out your body in a way that feels good for you. Most of the recent research would suggest a dynamic warm-up, one where you keep moving rather than hold stretches, is best for getting your body physically prepared to run. The members of my running community press play on a five-minute warm-up I have recorded for them which they can follow along indoors or outdoors before they run. They don’t have to waste energy thinking about what exercises they should be doing, they just follow along and prepare themselves to run. If you don’t have a coach in your headphones, there are plenty of warm-up videos you can watch on YouTube. Finish your warm-up with a few minutes of walking and a very slow jog while breathing through you nose – your body will thank you for it.

Race day warm-ups

We joked in our running group recently when one of the ladies mentioned how pleasantly surprised she was with her parkrun performance. For once, she cycled down and followed a little warm-up routine rather than spent the 10 minutes before the parkrun in her usual huddle at the start line chatting and shivering to keep warm. Imagine that, a warmer body being better able to perform on a cold early spring morning. Even though we always warmed up together as a group at training, she had treated parkruns and races differently. So even if you feel you need to preserve all your energy to get through a run or race, consider a brisk walk, some breathing exercises and some gentle mobility moves before you line up at your next parkrun or race.

Notice the difference

If you are still sceptical of the benefits of warm-up and easing slowly into a run, google “Kenyan Shuffle” to see how some of the most famous elite runners transition into their run. If they can make time for this, so can you. A warm-up doesn’t have to take too long, nor does it have to be complicated, but if we can ease into our run with a plan, a realistic expectation and an attitude of gratitude for what is best for our body today, then we are more likely to label our run a success. The better we feel about our run, the more likely we are to keep moving forward.

And moving forward is the best place for us all to be.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at Her spring term of coaching for runners in Dublin and online is open for booking