How to warm up to run your fastest 5k woman stretching

How to run 5k: 4 warm-up techniques guaranteed to help you run your 5k PB

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If you’re looking to beat your 5K time, you might want to look at how thoroughly you warm up before running. Writer Katie Yockey explores the four warm-up techniques guaranteed to help you run faster and stronger than ever. 

Raise your hand if you do a full warm-up before every run. Anyone? As much as we all know we should warm up before running, it’s really easy to skip it when you’re rushing out the door to fit your session in. During the first mile or two, your stiff legs come to life, blood flow to the muscles increases, and you start to feel good.

Sure, most of us have an abbreviated warm-up routine — a few leg swings, some glute activations, and maybe we leave it at that. But when you’re lining up for a 5k, that’s probably not going to cut it.

5k is only 3.1 miles, which means it’s a relatively short distance. If you’re running the distance for fun without any focus on time or pace, you may find that there’s no need to do an extensive pre-run routine; your body will warm up as you run. However, if you’re heading out with the intention to run fast, a more thorough warm-up routine is really important.

“When your muscles are cold, the blood does not deliver as much oxygen as when the muscles are warm,” says UESCA-certified running coach Amanda Mae Renkel. “Your muscles can also contract at a quicker rate post-warm-up, which is especially useful for running a 5k.”

Going for a PB means you want to be on the starting line feeling warm, loose and ready to go. With that in mind, here’s how to prepare for your fastest 5k ever.

Walk or jog

First, you need to get your body moving. Don’t feel any pressure to rush this – treat it like the warm-up to the warm-up. The main goal here is to increase blood flow to your muscles and pay attention to how you feel.

“Try jogging slowly for five to 10 minutes,” says Reda Elmardi, a strength and conditioning specialist. “Jog at a pace that feels comfortable and not too fast.”

If jumping right into a jog feels like too much, start with a brisk walk. This is where honing in on how you feel comes into play; your body’s needs will be slightly different every day, and it’s your job to figure out what they are. For example, if your race or run is early in the morning, you’ll likely need to spend more time walking and jogging to wake up your body. 

Plyometric drills

Now that your muscles are warmed up, it’s time to get them activated and firing. This is where plyometric (plyo) exercises come in.

A 2020 study published in Frontiers In Physiology showed that people who did plyo drills as a running warm-up had better running economy than those who just did jogging and resistance exercises. Running economy is the relationship between how much oxygen your body uses and how fast you run — so the higher your running economy, the more efficiently you can run fast.

You can try one or all of the following plyo drills:

Jump squats

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Shift your hips backwards and focus on sitting back over your heels.
  3. Squat as low as you feel comfortable, then explode upwards. Try to extend through your ankles, knees, and hips.
  4. Land gently on the balls of your feet, bending your knees and rolling back toward your heels.
  5. Repeat 5–8 times.

Double leg bounds

  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Squat part of the way down and extend your arms behind you.
  3. Throw your arms forward and explode out of the squat, jumping as far forward as you can.
  4. Land gently in a squat position.
  5. Repeat 5–8 times.

Jump lunges

  1. Start in a lunge position with your front knee stacked over your foot.
  2. Jump as high as you can, extending through your knees and ankles, and switch your legs midair.
  3. Land in a lunge position with the other leg in front.
  4. Repeat 5–8 times.

Dynamic stretches

“Stretching helps loosen tight muscles and increase flexibility,” says Elmardi. And that makes it an important part of your running routine – it can increase your range of motion and release tight hamstrings, hip flexors and quads, which is crucial for running.

When it comes to warming up before a race or Parkrun, dynamic stretching is your best bet. According to a 2021 study, dynamic stretching before a run can improve running economy and decrease the rate of perceived exertion, also known as RPE. This means it can make running feel a little bit easier and can make running at a fast pace during the race more comfortable.

You can try adding some of these dynamic stretches to your warm-up routine:

Walking toe touches

  1. Take a step forward on your left foot and kick your right foot in front of you.
  2. Reach to touch your right foot with your left hand.
  3. Repeat on each side.

Walking lunges

  1. Take a step forward and plant your right foot firmly in front of you.
  2. Lower into a lunge, keeping your knee stacked over your right foot.
  3. Stand up, pressing through your left leg, and step forward.
  4. Repeat on each side.

Knee to chest pulls

  1. Take a step forward with your right foot.
  2. Bend and lift your left foot, and wrap your hands around it, hugging it into your chest.
  3. Release your leg and take a step forward.
  4. Repeat on each side.

Strides

Because 5k, in the grand scheme of things, is a relatively short distance (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time), this means you might be running at a considerably faster pace than your everyday easy runs. To get your body primed and ready to go fast, finish up your warm-up with some strides.

Strides are a basic running drill where you focus on exaggerating your form for a short burst of running (think: taking clownishly long steps). Concentrate on picking up your knees and lengthening your stride. Repeat 2-3 bursts of 30-second strides.

Practice makes perfect

“It’s really important to practise throughout training to find the most suitable warm-up,” says Renkel. “Finding the right length of time and intensity is going to be different from one runner to the next. You want your muscles to be warm, but you should avoid demanding too much from the body.”

While it might seem tedious to do a full warm-up routine on an average Wednesday, it can pay off on race day (or the day you want to push yourself).

Pay close attention to how your body feels when you run after a warm-up. You can treat it like an experiment: note which warm-up exercises you did on days when you feel great, how long you did them for and how intensely you did them.

It’ll take some time to find the perfect race day warm-up, so try to be patient — it can really pay off. “To run a 5k at optimal capability, a warm-up is essential,” says Renkel. You might just find that the right warm-up is the key to your fastest 5k ever.

For more running tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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