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The goal of the warm-up in running is simple, it is there to prepare the body for more intense running which lies ahead, without introducing fatigue to your body.

A good warm-up will do a couple of things to our physiology:

  • It fires up the neuromuscular system, which allows our body to activate more muscle and coordinate motor skills better.
  • An aerobic warm-up can help the body to use more oxygen sooner into the workout or race, which can save energy at the beginning of a run.
  • It helps our body regulate its temperature more efficiently. Our muscles increase to an optimal functioning temperature, while our body’s cooling mechanism is also primed to expel excess heat.
  • Hormones which dilated capillaries and regulate energy production (etc.) gradually raise (rather than immediately spiking).

From a performance standpoint, a warm-up is certainly beneficial. For instance, if our muscle’s nerves can fire quicker, then our muscle’s contracting force and velocity will improve. Likewise, if we can use/uptake more oxygen sooner into a run our baseline VO2max will be higher & our heart rate will be more stable. When we warm-up we also increase our muscles temperature and divert blood to areas of the body that most need it. Increasing our temperature will allow nerve impulses to be transmitted quicker, while also allowing our muscles and tendons to be more nibble and run through a better range of motion. This of course will aid performance and decrease the risk of injury.

However, warm-ups are not simple about increasing temperature, but largely about preparing the body to regulate temperature. Consider our the aerobic enzymes within our muscles, which convert fuel into usable energy – their activity increases once temperature rises, however begins to decrease once temperature raises too high as they risk ‘over-heating’. So as much as our body is warming-up, it’s also preparing its cooling mechanism to keep the bodies temperature stable.

There’s also a psychological component of a warm-up which we’ll talk about another time.

Here are some general things keep in mind when warming-up:

  • A warm-up shouldn’t fatigue you.
  • The shorter the event the more you have to ‘rev up your engine’ during the warm up.
  • Younger athletes warm-up quicker.
  • You shouldn’t allow more than 10min of inactivity following a warm-up (strides and light jog suffices).
  • Warm-ups should generally consist of a general component (eg. light jog) and a specific component (eg. drills, strides, accelerations, or short intervals that relate more specifically to your event).
  • It is perfectly fine to warm-up by feel
  • Limit warm-up length in hot conditions

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