Warm-ups are an essential part of the running process, even when we feel like we don’t have the patience for them. Many of us may make excuses not to prep our bodies and just get going on the trail, but the body is like an engine and it’s important to spend the extra time warming up before hitting the trail. 

A warm-up allows the body to prepare to run and it’s also the time to reset your mind-body connection to get into the right mindset for your physical journey. An adequate warm-up also decreases the chances of injury along with preparing the mind. Since a workout is part physical and part mental, every part of the body’s system should cooperate. 

While stretching takes time before a run, it’s important that both the warm-up and cooldown are incorporated as part of the workout time. Five minutes of performing basic stretches can help improve your mobility, flexibility and offset injuries. Here are five important stretches to use for 1 minute each. If you have time, indulge in one or two repetitions for a 15-minute workout that can help you go a long way!

1. Standing Hip Controlled Articular Rotation (CAR)

Why: This workout is important to assess and improve your range of motion. It’s also meant to help lubricant the hip joint. The increased mobility will help with your run and also help your joint health in the long term. However, consistency is key. In short, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

How: First, stand straight on the right leg and raise the left knee to 90-degrees, so it’s in line with the left hip. Stabilize your core and keep the pelvis in a stationary position while placing your hands on your hips for balance. Move the left knee out to the side, then downward and then into your centerline. Next, move it back up to the starting position. It’s like drawing an imaginary circle in the air with your knee. Remember to keep your lower back and pelvis as stable and still as possible while completing this exercise while the movement is slow. The goal is to improve your range of motion in the hip. Repeat this movement 5 to 10 sides per side for about a minute.

2. Lunge and Side Bends

Why: Since running is a one-leg activity, single-leg warm-ups make sense. The sides bend adds a plane of movement, the front, which most runners fail to train. This exercise also helps runners prepare for the single-leg load they’ll experience. It also helps stretch out the quad to the shoulder and opens up the airway for more oxygen to come into the body as you workout.

How: Stand straight with the feet set apart at hip distance. Tighten your core and put your hands on your hips. Step forward with the left foot and then bend the left knee to a 90-degree angle, allowing yourself to lower down until the left thigh is parallel to the floor. Your knee should be centered over the ankle. Next, bend your right knee slightly as the right heel lifts above the floor. When you feel stable and centered, rest your left forearm on the left thigh and reach the right arm straight over your head. This creates length on the right side of the body. Next, bend your torso over to the left while stretching the right arm across your head to the left. This position should be held for five seconds. After, you can return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Continue to alternate each side for a minute.

3. Standing Quad/Hip Flexor

Why: This exercise opens up the front legs and helps extend the flexors in the hip. Tight hip flexors affect the hamstrings in the leg and their ability to move flexibly. The movement also helps people focus on stability and work the core muscles that help position them upright.

How: Similar to the start of the last exercise, stand straight and engage your core. Bend the right leg and bring it up to bring the hell near the right glute while grasping the right ankle with the right hand. As you pull the ankle to the glute, tuck the tailbone down towards the ground and tilt the pelvis. There should be a stretch along the quad up into the front of the hips. Hold the breath and then repeat the exercise on the other side. Alternate quickly.

4. Lateral Squat Stretch

Why: Including more frontal motion is a great way to add variety into your workouts. Plus, the adductors and groin area are always tight for most people and it’s important to loosen them up for improved form.

How: Stand tall with your feet spread apart. Join your hands in front of the chest to balance yourself. Shift your weight onto each foot and bend the knee of the leg you’re standing on as you move your hips back as though you were about to sit in a chair as you keep the other leg straight. Make sure the knee does not move forward past your toes. Try to elevate your thigh as horizontally as possible. A stretching feeling should form along the muscles of the opposite leg’s inner thigh. Hold each position for 5 seconds and then alternate sides. Repeat for a minute.

5. Calf Stretch

Why: Hamstrings are a major muscle group that power the runner’s stride. This exercise allows you to work the hamstring without it becoming static or overstretching. Tight calves are a universal concern for most runners and can cause several problems when running, including knee pain. With a point and flex exercise, you can condition the entire back of your legs.

How: Stand upright with the feet spread apart. Your toes should face forward as you touch your hands together in front of you for balance. Move the weight onto your left foot and bend the left knee as you push the hips back as though you were about to sit in a chair while you keep the opposite (right) leg straight and bend down. As you bend down to touch your right ankle, you can flex and point your foot and you should eventually feel a stretch along the calf. Hold the position for five seconds, then alternate sides for a minute.