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Activate your running muscles in 10 minutes  
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Activate your running muscles in 10 minutes  

Muscle activation is key to ensuring an injury-free run. Here’s a routine incorporating warm-up, activity-specific activation and potentiation of the muscles
A warmup routine is important to keep your run injury and pain free, and enhance your running performance. A runner's warm up should have both stretches, running muscle activation and potentiation.
A running warm up routine should start with stretching of the muscles involved in the activity. Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

It is a cold winter morning. You bravely pulled yourself out of your warm, comfortable bed to hit the running trail. A bit of spot jogging to get things moving, and then you are off.  Ouch! A sudden catch in your calf. You are forced to stop. The cold weather does not make it any better. Well, your muscles needed more than just jogging for warming up. A third of the injuries reported in sports clinics are muscular injuries related to improper or inadequate running muscle activation before physical activity.

A muscle activation routine is just what is required to make the run efficient, painless and injury free.


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Here is an easy-to-do 10-minute pre-run muscle activation routine:

Stretches and full body warm-up

Ear-to-shoulder stretches: (upper trapezius (neck) stretch): Place the left hand on the lower back. Place the right hand on the opposite side of your head, over the ear. Gently pull the head toward the right shoulder, looking straight ahead, until a stretch is felt in the neck. Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds. Breathe deeply as you do so. Repeat on the other side.

Neck stretches

Overhead triceps and shoulder stretch: Hold one arm straight overhead, and drop the forearm behind you, resting it on your back, between your shoulder blades. With the other hand, grab right above the bent elbow and pull it gently until a stretch is felt in the shoulder and the side of the arm. Do not pull on the elbow and try to keep your biceps close to the ear. Hold for at least 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Overhead triceps and shoulder stretch

Cross-body shoulder stretch:  Grab one arm above the elbow with the opposite hand and pull it across the body and toward the chest with the other hand, until a stretch is felt in the shoulder. Hold for at least 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Cross-body shoulder stretch

Shoulder rolls: Shrug both shoulders toward the ears in a circular, backwards motion. Repeat a few times.

Shoulder rolls

Arm circles:  Rotate the arms in a clockwise and counter-clockwise motion, an equal number of times in both directions.

arm circles

Wrist rotation: Hold both arms out and rotate the wrists five to six times clockwise. Repeat the same in the counter-clockwise direction.

wrist rotation

Wrist stretch I:  Hold both arms straight out ahead, palms facing outward and upward. With the right palm, gently hold onto the fingers of the left hand and pull back. Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat this with the other hand.

Wrist stretch II: With both arms still held up straight ahead of you, drop the palms downward and facing inward. Using the right palm, gently pull the left palm further inward. Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat this with the other hand.

Hip rotations: Place both hands on the waist. Rotate the waist five to six times in a clockwise direction. Repeat the same in the anticlockwise direction.

hip rotation

Knee circles: Bend the knees a little and place both hands on the knees. Slowly move the knees in an inward-to-outward motion five to six times. Repeat the same in the reverse direction.

knee rotation

Running muscle activation

While doing the running muscle activation exercises, the effort put in should be just enough to activate, them at about 20 per cent of the maximum intensity. This is to ensure not to tire oneself out.

Core snap and backward lean: Stand straight and engage the core. Then, for a deeper activation, hold one leg out and lean back on one leg. Hold this for six to 10 seconds. Repeat this with the other leg. Do two to three repetitions for each leg.

Core snap and backward lean

Quadriceps: Balance on one leg. Hold the other leg outwards and straight. Hold for six to 10 seconds. Then, switch to the other leg. Do two to three repetitions for each leg.

Medial glutes (hip muscles): Balance on one leg, while holding the other leg out diagonally and to the side. Hold for six to 10 seconds. Then, switch to the other leg. Do two to three repetitions for each leg.

Medial glutes activation

Heel-to-butt running stretch: Perform spot running on your toes (with the heel off the floor) and take your heel to your glutes as you do it. This is a good dynamic stretching and warm-up exercise for your legs.

heel to butt running activation

Hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes activation

Half knee lift: Stand on one leg and bring the opposite leg upward such that the thigh is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for six to 10 seconds. Then, move the thigh down, with the foot facing backwards, such that the lower leg is now parallel to the ground. Hold this for six to 10 seconds; then switch to the other leg. Complete two to three repetitions for each leg.

half knee lift

Full knee lift and stretch: Pull the left knee towards the chest with both hands for a nice stretch. Release gently. Repeat with the other knee. Next, hold the left arm straight up above your head. Simultaneously, fold the right leg back, and pull it gently towards the glutes with the help of the other arm.

Leg swings

With wall or chair support: While holding onto a wall or a sturdy chair, flex each foot and swing one leg forward and back. Switch between the legs for a healthy stretch.

leg swings

Cross-leg swing: Place hands on the waist, and swing one leg in front of the other in a scissor-like motion. Repeat with the other leg. This exercise can also be performed with a resistance band.

Bird dog: It targets the core, the glutes as well as thoracic mobility. Get down on the knees and palms in a table-top position. The knees must run straight under the hips and the hands straight under the shoulders, running parallel to the thigh. Relax or neutralise the spine by engaging the core abdominal muscles. With the shoulder blades drawn together, raise the left arm and the right leg back such that the shoulders and hip are parallel to the floor, forming a straight bridge. Extend the back of the neck downward, by tucking the chin into the chest, and gazing down at the floor for a good thoracic stretch. Hold this position for a few seconds. Then, assume the starting position. Repeat the same with the left arm and the right leg, holding this position for a few seconds. Return to the starting position. This makes one round. Do two to three such sets, with three to four repetitions each.

bird dog

Calf raises: Raise the heels and shift the weight to the toes. Hold for about 30 seconds to feel the stretch. Come back to the initial position. Repeat these four to five times. One can use the support of a wall or a sturdy chair if required.

calf raises

Calf stretches

Curb stretch (against the wall): Find a wall and stand a few inches away from it. Place the toes of the left foot against the wall, planting the heel on the floor. Shift the weight to the heel of the forward foot and hold for about 10 to 15 seconds. Switch the feet and repeat.

calf curb stretch

Standing bent-over calf stretch: This stretch helps with ankle dorsiflexion and hits the hamstrings. Stand tall. Place the left leg a step ahead of the right. Bend forward, and gently bend the back knee as you do so, keeping the front knee straight. With the right hand, hold onto the front foot from underneath the toes. Gently pull the toes upwards, feeling the stretch in the calf. Repeat with the right leg and left hand.

Potentiation (neuromuscular activation)

Potentiation exercises mimic the actual workout to activate the mind and body. This pre-run routine warms up the body sufficiently, increases heart rate before the activity and trains the neuromuscular system, thus boosting runners’ performance.

Forward skip: Sit down on the left knee, with the knee exactly under the hip, and the thigh perpendicular to the floor. Rise with a spring, bringing the left knee up to waist level, keeping the other leg straight. The momentum gained helps with pushing forward. Repeat the same by switching the legs after each landing. This technique is known to boost heart rate pre-run.

forward skip

Knee drive drill (wall): Knee drive drills are performed standing and leaning forward, with hands placed on a wall. Bring alternate knees towards the chest and run on the toes. This mimics sprinting and the following variations can be performed for practising the acceleration phases: Iso hold, load and shift, marching, single knee drive, double knee drive and triple knee drive.

knee drive, wall

Spot jumping and running on the toes: Perform five to 10 jumping jacks or spot jumps, followed by 30 to 40 seconds of running on the toes.

spot jumping

running on toes

Now that your muscles are sufficiently activated, you are all set to fully enjoy your run.

Video of the complete exercise routine:

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