Person squatting during warm-up

8 Must-Try Warm-Up Moves For a Stronger, Faster Run

Try these exercises to immediately elevate your running performance.

By Lucy Maher and PelotonUpdated April 11, 2024


If you’re like most runners, you’re squeezing your miles into a busy day. That could mean hopping on the Peloton Tread before the kids wake up, on a lunch break, in between conference calls, or in the quiet of the evening. But regardless of when you lace up, it’s always important to take a running warm-up to activate your legs, back, and core.

Warming up allows you to feel good both during the run, because you've increased body temperature and activated targeted muscle groups, as well as after the run,” says Peloton instructor Jess Sims. “Since your body was properly prepared, the recovery is better.”

Interested in incorporating activation drills in your pre-run routine but not sure where to start? We’ll explain why it’s crucial to warm up before running and why a dynamic running warm-up is different from stretching. Then, we'll recommend eight moves to include in your running warm-up to fire up the hamstrings, glutes, hips, core, and upper back.

Why Warm Up Before Running?

You may be strapped for time or just impatient to start your run, but your running warm-up is a crucial part of your training and shouldn’t be skipped. Here are a few of the benefits of warming up before a run. 

Boost Performance

Simply put, a smart warm-up leads to better results. A meta-analysis of 32 high-quality studies found that a warm-up was shown to improve performance in 79 percent of the data points that were examined. So if you have a tough speed workout or an endurance ride planned for the day, warming up is going to help you max out your efforts. 

Prevent Injury

Want to stay healthy and injury-free? A thorough warm-up is your best bet, especially since more than 30 percent of injuries diagnosed in sports medicine clinics are muscular injuries. A study in the journal Sports Medicine found that warm-ups reduced the number of injuries, with the most benefits occurring if the participant warmed up for 15 minutes immediately before their workout. 

Improve Technique

Certain running warm-ups, including drills like A-skips and high knees, help your body relearn proper running technique before you hit the sidewalks. That way, your running form is on point throughout each and every mile—which will also help prevent injury. Case in point: A study of professional athletes concluded that while sport-specific warm-ups were helpful for preparing the body for the intense performance to come, the bigger impact was in their sensorimotor learning. In plain English: Warming up helped the athletes prepare and restore the skills they’d been practicing. You may not be a professional athlete, but the same principle still applies!

Running Warm-Up vs. Stretching

One of the most common myths about running warm-ups is that simple static stretching is enough. However, more recent research has suggested that static stretches should be kept to a minimum during warm-ups, and runners (or other gym-goers) should prioritize active stretching in drills instead. Here’s how the two concepts and stretching styles differ.

Static stretching: Static stretching involves holding a stretch for an extended period of time at the edge of your range of movement. Your muscle or tendon is elongated so that you feel flexible, supple, and springy. The goal is to lengthen the muscles. (And heads up, this is also different from mobility training, which aims to increase your range of motion for a particular joint).

Warm-up: A warm-up is much more active than static stretching, and it includes a combination of static stretching, active or dynamic stretching, and running drills (like high knees, skips, or leg swings). For running, your warm-up may also include jogging at a slow pace before hitting your target paces. 

Essential Running Warm-Up Exercises

Your pre-run warm-up awaits. These exercises target all the essential muscles for running: your glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, and core. 

1. Leg Swings

Leg swings help loosen up your lower body, improving your flexibility and mobility in your muscles and joints. They also challenge your balance.

  1. Stand parallel to a wall. A railing or chair will work too—anything you can use for support.

  2. Swing your outside leg forward and backward, maintaining your balance as much as possible and only using the wall for light support. Keep your core engaged and control the swing; you don’t have to kick like a Rockette. You should feel like you’re going right to the edge of your stretch.

  3. Repeat on the opposite leg.

  4. Turn to face the wall, stepping back about half an arm’s length.

  5. With both hands on the wall, swing one leg side to side just in front of your body. 

  6. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Muscles worked: Hamstrings, hip flexors, core

Hip Circles

2. Standing Hip Openers

Runners constantly complain about tight hips, but an effective running warm-up can gently prepare your hips for the work to come. You may need a chair or countertop nearby for balance, especially if you’re new to this pre-run warm-up.

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and arms out to your sides.

  2. Shift your weight onto your left leg. Engage your glutes and quads to stay balanced.

  3. Lift your right knee up and externally rotate it to the right side of your body. Your right knee should be in line with your right hip on the right side.

  4. Continue the rotation by bringing your right knee behind you and eventually right below your right hip. 

  5. Repeat the movement for 30 seconds, then switch directions for 30 seconds, bringing your right leg behind you first.

  6. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Muscles worked: Hip flexors, groin, glutes

3. Deep Squat Rotation

Your spine gets some of the benefits of a running warm-up with this exercise. If you can’t get into a super-deep yogi squat, that’s okay—instead, focus on keeping your weight in your heels and your chest up. You can also put a rolled-up towel or yoga mat beneath your heels as an extra assist.

  1. Stand with your feet wider than hips-width apart. 

  2. Bend your knees and lower into a squat, keeping your chest up, shoulders back, and back flat. Your hands are in front of your chest.

  3. At the bottom of your squat, place your left hand on the ground and rotate your upper body and spine to the right. Reach your right hand toward the ceiling, keeping it stacked over your right shoulder. 

  4. Hold for a few seconds, then bring your right hand down and extend your left hand toward the ceiling.

  5. Hold for a few seconds, then bring both hands back to the starting position.

  6. Drive your feet into the ground to come to standing.

Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, adductors, thoracic spine rotators

Single-Leg Hip Bridge

4. Single-Leg Hip Bridge

Nothing fires up the glutes quite like a single-leg hip bridge. All too often, our butt muscles can get lazy and disengaged—even while we’re running. A hip bridge activates the glute muscles and primes them for movement.

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your arms are long at your sides.

  2. Lift your left foot and drive your left knee into your chest.

  3. Driving your right foot into the floor, bridge your hips up and fully extend them, creating a long line from your shoulders to your knees.

  4. Hold and squeeze for a few seconds. Make sure your hips are square and in line with each other—one hip shouldn’t be significantly higher than the other.

  5. Slowly and with control, lower your hips. Briefly tap your hips to the floor, then drive up again for another rep. 

  6. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch legs.

Muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back

Clamshell with Hip Bridge

5. Clamshell with a Hip Bridge

This exercise (a favorite of Peloton instructor Selena Samuela) targets your hips and glutes, making it a must for your pre-run warm-up. Want to increase the challenge? Add a mini-loop just above your knees, or hold a light weight on your top leg.

  1. Lie on your side, using your forearm or hand to support your head. Your hips should be in line with your shoulders, with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle slightly in front. Your lower forearm is flat on the ground, and your top hand can rest lightly on the ground for support.

  2. On an exhale, squeeze your glutes and lift your bottom hip off the ground as if you’re doing a side plank. Your hips should be in line with your shoulders. 

  3. Simultaneously, open your knees, keeping your feet glued together at the ankles. You should feel this in your hip abductors.  Throughout this move, focus on keeping your pelvis slightly tucked forward to keep your back flat and prevent it from arching.

  4. Hold for a few seconds and squeeze.

  5. In one smooth, controlled motion, bring your knees back together and lower your bottom hip to the ground. Briefly tap your hip to the ground, then repeat.

  6. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Muscles worked: Abductors, adductors, glutes, core

High Knees

6. High Knees

Not only do high knees get your heart rate up, but they also activate your core, which is responsible for keeping you upright during your run. Pro tip: Get your arms involved for an extra burst of power.

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and arms loose at your sides.

  2. Lift your left knee up, driving it toward your chest. Simultaneously swing your right arm forward with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.

  3. Lower your left leg back to the ground and immediately lift your right knee up, driving it toward your chest. Simultaneously swing your left arm forward with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. 

  4. Once you feel coordinated, increase your speed until you’re running in place. Aim to get your knees at or above hip-level. 

Muscles worked: Core, hip flexors, quads, glutes

7. A-Skips

Yup, your favorite playground activity is back as a running warm-up exercise. These are similar to high knees, but with a different rhythm. If you don’t have room to skip (like if you’re running indoors), you can do this running drill in place.

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and arms loose at your sides.

  2. Lift your left knee up toward your chest while driving your right arm forward and up.

  3. As your left knee reaches its highest point, extend your right leg down so it’s completely straight.

  4. Land on your left foot and immediately drive your right knee up toward your chest. Simultaneously swing your left arm forward and up. 

  5. As your right knee reaches its highest point, extend your left leg down so it’s completely straight. 

  6. Continue alternating, keeping a skipping rhythm as you increase the pace.

Muscles worked: Hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, core, calves

8. Jogging In Place

Before you go full throttle, spend a couple minutes jogging at a slow, steady pace. Prioritize perfect running form, even though it may feel better to get a little loose. Keep your shoulders stacked above your hips with your shoulders back, leaning forward slightly. Arms are bent at a 90-degree angle with hands cupped loosely. 

How to Incorporate These Exercises Into Your Warm-Up Routine

Now that you know your moves, it’s time to put them into practice. Try combining these warm-up exercises for a thorough, full-body running warm-up, spending about 30 seconds on each exercise. Ideally, your warm-up should last about 15 minutes.

In addition to these moves, Jess recommends a warm-up run to help your body hit its true potential. “The first mile or ten minutes of a run can be an adjustment period for your body, so I like to lightly jog for about five to ten minutes before a general run,” she says.

You may want to tweak that warm up if you’re about to start a more intense workout, she notes. “For a hill run, I would definitely add incline during the warm up and incorporate more power plyo movements. For a HIIT run, I would incorporate some short acceleration intervals.”

The good news is that there are plenty of Peloton classes on offer to get you moving before you, well, get moving. “We have some awesome pre-run warm ups, which are floor-based,” Jess says, “and we also have warm-up runs, which come after the floorwork to get that ‘yuck’ out of the beginning of your run.”

And if you’re into knocking off a few strength-training sets before you hit the Peloton Tread or road? Go easy so you don’t hinder your performance, and focus on moves that will prepare your body for the run you’ve got planned.

“Running is high impact, and it's important to note two things,” Jess says. “First, when you're running, you're only on one leg at a time, so it is crucial to work one side of the body at a time. Secondly, running happens in one plane of motion, the sagittal plane. Therefore, it is very important to work other planes such as the frontal plane (think lateral lunges) and transverse plane (think low-to-high wood chops) to make sure you're balancing everything out.”