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Never is it more tempting to neglect a proper warm-up than a treadmill day. Unlike a road or track, in which there’s plenty of room for drills and strides, most treadmills are packed into a communal area or crammed into the corner of a home “gym.” Some feature a time limit too, plus fellow exercisers who may be (understandably) protective of their personal space.
Although I’m guilty of breezing through plenty of them myself, I’ve learned that a sufficient warm-up is not only virtuous on treadmill days; it’s essential. Running on a machine is inherently different than running on land, so it’s important to get everything warm and firing before you hop on and ramp up.
Here are eight drills, exercises, and stretches that are efficient, can be done in a tight space, and that prime your body for a good run. I typically do them after a 2–3-mile jog and before the hard portion of my workout. On easy days, they’re best done before starting.
Lacrosse Ball Release
Lacrosse balls (or tennis balls, for a gentler version) are great on-the-go tools because they’re small and versatile. With the ball on the ground and your body positioned so it digs into a specific area, spend a few minutes working through any tight or restricted spots. I always hit the arches of my feet (essentially standing on the ball and rolling it around), calves (applying downward pressure onto the ball and making circles with my ankles), psoas (laying on my stomach with the ball nuzzled in that pocket inside my hip, and moving my foot from side to side), and glutes (sitting on the ball and rolling around on a few spots).
Hip Flexor Stretch
If I had time for just one stretch, one that targets my hip flexors would be it. (PodiumRunner editor-in-chief Jonathan Beverly seems to agree.) There are several ways to get it done, but the important thing is to avoid cheating by arching your back or compensating in other ways. My standard approach is to kneel with one knee on a soft surface (like a foam pad or rolled-up yoga mat) and the other foot planted firmly on the ground in front, both of them at roughly 90-degree angles. Engage the glute on the kneeling side, push your knee and back foot back and into the ground, and think of Beverly’s cue to “tuck your tail” until you feel a nice stretch in front of your hip and at the top of your quad. Hold it for 45 seconds up to 2 minutes, depending on how tight and familiar with the exercise you are, and then switch to the other side.
Standing Hip Hinge
Now that your hip flexors are a little looser, the next step is to get your glutes firing. Anchor a thick resistance band to the ground or just above it; the bottom of a treadmill post works well, as does another person’s feet. Standing a few feet in front of and facing away from the band, pick it up with both hands and hold it taut between your knees or quads. Lower down into a squat, letting your hands and the band go behind you, and then pop up into a tall, slightly forward-leaning stance. Repeat 9 more times to hit 10.
If you have access to a hallway or even a straight 10 meters to work with, this drill is best done moving forward. If you’re limited to a tiny space next to your treadmill, you can do it in place by shifting weight from one leg to the other. For the walking version, take a step with one leg and, using both hands, bring the opposite knee up to your chest. Hold for a beat, focusing on your balance, and then release that foot to the ground. Step forward with the opposite leg, and continue that pattern for at least 10 controlled steps on each side.
Again, if you have a hallway or short runway, use it for this lunge sequence. If not, do it in place, keeping one foot rooted to the ground and the other one lunging in different directions around it. For the moving version, you’ll do 10 repetitions (1 rep = right step, left step) of 4 types of lunges: forward, backward, left, right. Take your time and rather than shooting for your longest or deepest lunge, focus on maintaining good balance and an upright posture.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Most people associate Romanian deadlifts with strength, but they’re also great for activation when done unweighted. For this single-leg version, stand tall with your feet together, shift your weight onto one leg, and bend forward at your hips so that your head approaches hip height in front of you and your free leg lifts off the ground behind you. Keep your hands on your hips or let them drop in front of you to help you balance. The goal is to keep your hips even and straight, your core engaged, and your glutes and hamstrings firing. Once you’ve done 10 repetitions on one side, switch to the other for 10 more.
As important as it is for running, the foot and ankle region doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. This ankle mobility exercise is something I try to do daily, as it’s a simple way to increase range of motion and it feels good too. It can be done with one leg on a step or with both on flat ground, and with a stretchy band or firm strap—just make sure it’s strong. To execute, use one foot to anchor the band to the ground, loop the other end around your opposite ankle, and plant that foot a few feet in front of the planted one. Make sure the band is firmly gripping the space right above the top of your foot, where the crease of your ankle is on the front. Tighten the band or move your front foot forward if it doesn’t feel taut. Now, bending your forward knee and keeping both feet flat, alternate rocking front and back so that you feel a nice tug in that ankle region. Perform 15–20 back-and-forth reps on both sides.
Leg swings are usually the last part of my pre-workout routine, as they’re safest and most effective when the rest of my body is warm and loose. Holding onto a wall or treadmill arm for balance, first do 10 forward leg swings on both sides, swinging the inside leg and letting your outside arm swing up and reach for the opposite toe. Then do 10 side leg swings on both sides, standing up on the toe of your planted foot so the swinging foot doesn’t scrape the ground. Don’t make maximum height your aim with these; rather, let your hip region extend as far as feels comfortable in each direction without forcing it. They’re called swings, after all—not kicks!
Becky Wade is a 4-time Olympic Trials participant (in the marathon and 3,000-meter steeplechase) and the author of Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe. A native of Dallas, TX and a graduate of Rice University, she lives, trains, and writes in Boulder, CO with her husband Will and dog Tina.