The Anatomy of an Active Warmup Routine

Implementing (and actually doing) a warm up routine prior to running is very important to the overall health of a runner.  

10 drills to activate and strengthen muscles prior to running
10 running drills to do before you go for a run

Can you get away with not warming up prior to a run? Yes. Even the best runners are occasionally guilty of not warming up before a run.  Is it good to constantly forgo a warm up? No way.  

Let me tell you a few ways that warming up, or priming your body, is good for runners of all ability levels:

For starters, have you ever tried starting your car early in the morning in the dead of winter? It’s a bit sluggish and resistant to start, right? That’s pretty much how your body feels after a night of sleep.

Secondly, a good warm up routine should be efficient.  I think a really solid warm up routine should take you no more than 5-10 minutes.  You can easily prepare for a run in 5 minutes and it won’t detract from your already busy schedule.  I know very well that you can afford to spend 5 minutes to have a much better run.

10 drills to perform to have an improvement in your running performance
The anatomy of a proper warm up routine

Lastly, an active warm up is designed to bridge the gap for your heart, from resting to running.  Not only is it not good to go from “zero to 100”, an active warm up helps you safely and slowly raise your heart rate from your resting beats per minute to what you plan on starting your run at.

Below, I’ll outline the actual warm up drills you should do – again, this shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes.  It’s totally worth it and will not cut into your run time, recovery time, or Netflix time!

Pre-Run Warm Up Routine

Each of these exercises, or drills to be precise, should be done while walking. You should aim to cover roughly 20 meters per drill. If you really wanted to maximize this warm up routine, you could do a short 5-10 minute jog (no GPS required) that’s only goal is to warm up prior to your actual run.

10 easy-to-master drills to perform so you can have a better run
These are the 10 drills you should do prior to going for a run


While we call it toes, it’s really more “ball of your foot”. We’re practicing being tall, elongating our hamstrings and calves, firing our glutes and landing with our hips over our feet.


Heel walking works on mimicking running tall with a good forward lean. When you are tall and leading with your belly button, you are more likely to be out over your feet when they land, rather than behind them.

Not sure how to warm up before a run? Let #TrainwithMarc show you some simple drills to get your ready to #run!


This drill got the name “scoops” from some of my middle school runners and it comes from how you “scoop” the ground from behind your foot. This stretches your hamstring and calf – point your front toe toward the sky, scoop from behind your heel through and past your toes. Remember to keep your hips and shoulders facing forward.

10 drills that will drastically improve your running
10 drills that will drastically improve your running

Knee to chest

Grab just below your knee, flex your foot and pull your knee toward your chest. With this exercise, we’re stretching our hamstring.

Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram
Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram


Start by grabbing the top of your foot and bringing your heel toward your butt. After 3 seconds, release, walk and grab the other foot. Continue for 20 or so meters. This stretch will work all four muscles that make up the quad.

IT Band

The IT Band drill is a really good drill to work on if you’re prone to hip or knee issues. The IT Band runs from your hip to your knee and can get aggravated and cranky due to overuse issues. The actual drill is performed by putting your right ankle on your left knee (figure 4 pose) and squatting down. This is really good for balance and for elongating the IT band.

Have IT Band issues? You’ll want to read this article.

A-Walk/ Marching

This is a great drill for mimicking running form. You’ll want to have 90 degree angles: ankles dorsi-flexed, quads parallel to the ground; elbows making 90 degree angles too. The maneuver simulates what a sprinting runner might look like and doing this drill is good practice for that good running form.

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High Knees

High knees is a really good drill to practice to incorporate being light on your feet.  This drill reinforces having very short contact with the ground – once your foot hits the ground, the goal is to get it right back up into the air.  With this drill, you’ll want to pull your heel up toward your glute (butt) using your hamstring.

A skip

Similar to high knees, the “A Skip” drill helps develop lower-leg strength while encouraging knee lift and promoting an efficient footstrike.

Jump for Height

Jumping for height is the last drill for a reason – it’s the most active of all the drills. The goal is to jump up high, high, high, like you are trying to reach the clouds. It is really good at engaging and activating your calves.


These drills can be and should be done right before you go for your run. These 10 drills should be done over the course of 20 meters and should take you less than 5 minutes. This 5 minute primer is great to improve flexibility and mobility.

When you’ve checked out this post, you can scroll down and fill out the form for a pdf of the routine. You can save it to your Google Drive and access it at any time. Have any questions? You can ask me at any time. You’ll get an email from me with the full routine + you’ll be added to my newsletter.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!


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Marc is a middle school teacher and coach but also works with distance runners online. I help distance runners around the globe by providing support, writing customized training plans and designing workouts to help them reach their racing goals. I write for my blog every Wednesday morning and newsletter every Friday morning.

19 thoughts on “The Anatomy of an Active Warmup Routine

  1. Thanks for all these tips Marc! I will admit that with my weekend long runs I’ve been slacking on the pre-run warmup – I need to do a better job of that!


  2. Admittedly, I do not do any of these and I know I would most likely benefit from adding them into my routine. Thanks for sharing!


  3. I’m a coach and I’m still bad at warming up (though I do make my clients do so). Great tips, thanks!


  4. Kim at Running on the Fly September 18, 2019 — 6:54 PM

    I have really made an effort to do more drills before hitting the road with this training cycle. Maybe that’s why I have had very minimal (almost non-existent) hamstring issues…that’s never happened before LOL I have never done any of the toe things you mentioned, but those will now be added, thanks!


  5. 5 minutes – all it takes. As the weather gets cooler, it becomes more important


  6. Give them a try and tell me they don’t make your run better


  7. Awesome. Glad I could help add something to your tool belt


  8. You def should. The drills don’t take but 5 minutes and they’ll loosen you up so much.


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