Warm-Ups, Cool-Downs, and Stretching for Running

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All of your runs should start with a warmup and end with a cooldown. These two bookends to your run will help you prepare your muscles to perform optimally, and will also help you recover at the end of your workout.

How to Do a Running Warmup

Take these steps for your warmup:

  1. Do about five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to loosen up your muscles and warm up for your run. Some good pre-run warmup exercises include walking briskly, marching, jogging slowly, or cycling on a stationary bike. Make sure you don't rush your warmup.
  2. If you like doing dynamic stretches or exercises before your run, do walking lunges, jumping jacks, or opposite toe touches.
  3. Begin your run. Don't start out racing, but instead jog slowly at first and gradually build up your speed. You should be breathing very easily. If you feel yourself getting out of breath, slow down. This is part of knowing how fast you should run, and it's easy to start off too fast.
  4. Pay attention to your running posture and form when you begin your run. Ensure you are using the best technique before you speed up.

Benefits

As you begin to warm up, your blood vessels dilate. Because of this increased blood flow, your muscles are primed with oxygen and ready to perform at their best. Blood flow also increases the temperature in your muscles. This warmth prepares your muscles to enhance flexibility. 

Allowing your heart rate to increase gradually is beneficial to your heart. Rather than immediately demanding max heart output by jumping full speed into your running routine, warming up allows your heart rate to rise gradually. 

How to Do a Proper Cooldown

At the end of your run, take these steps:

  1. After you finish your run, cool down by walking or slowly jogging for five to 10 minutes. Your breathing and heart rate should gradually return to normal.
  2. Drink water or an electrolyte-infused drink to rehydrate your body.

Benefits

The cooldown keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness because your heart rate and blood pressure might drop rapidly. Winding down slowly allows them to fall gradually.

While you will often hear that the cooldown helps you work the lactic acid out of your muscles and prevent delayed onset muscle soreness the next day, research has not found this to be the case.

The cooldown is also a good mental transition between a hard effort and the end of your workout.

Should You Stretch Before or After Running?

Stretching used to be part of every warmup and cooldown, but the evidence doesn't find that it has the benefits it was once thought to bring. Static stretching before, during, or immediately after exercise hasn't been proven to prevent injury or delayed onset muscle soreness.

There is some evidence, however, that dynamic (aka active) stretching after a warmup might be beneficial for performance. This form of stretching is done with exercises that take your muscles through their full range of motion. Dynamic stretching exercises also mimic the actions you'll be taking in your workout.

Stretching cold muscles is never a good idea, so if you decide to include stretching, do it after you have warmed up or as part of your cooldown.

Stretching Tips for After Your Run

Stretch after your run or as a separate activity. Typical post-run stretches include the hamstring stretch, quad stretch, calf stretch, low lunge stretch, IT band stretch, butterfly stretch, hip and backstretch, arms and abs stretch, and triceps stretch. Use these tips for proper stretching:

  • Don't bounce while stretching. Hold still on each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Don't stretch through pain. Don't stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. You shouldn't push through muscle resistance and never stretch to the point of pain. As you feel less tension, you can increase the stretch a bit more until you feel the same slight pull.
  • Make sure you stretch both sides. Don't just stretch your left calf because you feel tightness on that side. Make sure you're stretching both sides equally.
  • Don't hold your breath. Stay relaxed and breathe in and out slowly. Make sure you don't hold your breath. Take deep belly breaths.

A Word From Verywell

Research is just catching up with what runners have been doing (and what their coaches have been teaching) for decades. Warming up before exercise is beneficial, but you can probably skip the stretching if you don't find it works for you.

If you are just starting a new fitness routine, speak with a healthcare professional to help determine the optimal running and stretching routine for you and your health. Enjoy your run!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should you warm up before running?

    Generally, a 5- to 10-minute warmup is sufficient to get the blood pumping to your muscles to warm them up for a run. Dynamic stretching (sometimes called active stretching) and light aerobic activity are both good ways to warm up pre-run.

  • Which is the best way to warm up before a run?

    The answer to this question is different for everyone. Some people enjoy walking briskly or riding a stationary bike for a few minutes before they ramp up into their full run. Others prefer active stretching, such as walking lunges. You should avoid static stretches before you run, as they can increase the risk of injury.

  • How long should a cooldown be after running?

    The minimum length of time for an effective cooldown session is five minutes. Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may choose to extend that to 10 minutes.

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The American Heart Association. Warm up, cool down.

  2. Herbert RD, De noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(7):CD004577. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3

  3. Van Hooren B, Peake JM. Do we need a cool-down after exercise? A narrative review of the psychophysiological effects and the effects on performance, injuries and the long-Term adaptive response. Sports Med. 2018;48(7):1575-1595. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0916-2

Additional Reading
  • Herbert RD, Noronha MD, Kamper SJ. Stretching to Prevent or Reduce Muscle Soreness After Exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. June 2011. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004577.pub3.

  • Hooren BV, Peake JM. Do We Need a Cool-Down After Exercise? A Narrative Review of the Psychophysiological Effects and the Effects on Performance, Injuries and the Long-Term Adaptive Response. Sports Medicine. 2018;48(7):1575-1595. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0916-2.

  • Mcgowan CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, Rattray B. Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Medicine. 2015;45(11):1523-1546. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x.

  • Yamaguchi T, Takizawa K, Shibata K. Acute Effect of Dynamic Stretching on Endurance Running Performance in Well-Trained Male Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2015;29(11):3045-3052. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000969.

  • Yeung SS, Yeung EW, Gillespie LD. Interventions for Preventing Lower Limb Soft-Tissue Running Injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD001256. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001256.pub2.