Improve your running with dynamic stretches

Aug 24, 2011 at 2:04 p.m. ET

If you skip one part of your exercise routine it's likely stretching. If it doesn't shape, tone or help you burn calories who needs it, right? Only stretching may help you avoid injury so you can continue to do the those things. Plus, if you're a runner, the right kind of stretching can make you faster. Sold, yet? If you're still not convinced, what if you found a way that wasn't the same old boring stretch-hold-and relax method? That's right: dynamic stretching (a.k.a. dynamic warm-ups) can actually be fun.

Woman stretching before run

Dynamic stretching for runners simply mimics some of the running movements, just in an exaggerated form. In other words, walking precedes jogging precedes running precedes sprinting, all while increasing blood flow to the very muscles that will be used at each stage.

Jog for five minutes to warm up muscles before performing five to 10 reps of each movement (15 to 20 minutes) before you do an all-out run.

  1. Backwards running/short steps: Run backwards with your feet and center of gravity close to the ground and arms swinging rapidly; focus on using the ball of your foot.
  2. Backwards running/long steps: Take exaggerated strides backwards, knees slightly bent without locking them, and an emphasis on landing on your toes.
  3. High-knee skip for height: Skip using exaggerated arm swings and hold the opposite knee (from the raised arm) at 90 degrees; concentrate on height.
  4. High-knee skip for distance: Skip using exaggerated arm swings and hold the opposite knee (from the raised arm) at 90 degrees; concentrate on covering distance versus height. Jump up and forward on one leg and land in the starting position on the same leg, repeating the skip with the opposite leg.
  5. Toe-touch walks: Walk a step, leaving one foot in front of the other. Reach down with the opposite arm and touch the forward toe; repeat with each step.
  6. Quick feet: Run as if you were on a tiny bicycle, with your feet low to the ground turning over very quickly. Keep your arms moving rapidly
  7. Slow controlled leg swings: Hold onto a wall or tree and swing one leg at a time up and back several times. Then switch legs.
  8. Torso twist: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, your hands on your hips. Simply rotate your entire upper body without moving your feet; pause and reverse direction.
  9. Crisscross: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Cross right leg in front of left leg; step left with left leg. Next, bring right leg behind left leg, and step out again with left leg. Continue in one direction for 15 to 20 steps, then switch directions. Increase speed and distance progressively.
  10. Butt kicks: Run about 50 yards out while trying to kick your buttocks with your heel. Keep your eyes focused forward (not down), and keep your back straight.

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