Chris McGrath by Chris McGrath

One of the most common mistakes we can make with our clients is to not get involved with their cardiorespiratory training program. It is often assumed by trainers (and clients) that there is no need for us to stand next to them while they perform their cardio routine. As a result, we send them on their way to preform their routine on their own. Of course, if standing next to a client while they run on a treadmill is all that we are going to do, then the assumption is correct. But our clients may be able to benefit just as much from our guidance during their cardio workouts as they do for other forms of training.

At the top of the list of cardio approaches that need tweaking are those performed by our running clients—including some of our most avid and competitive runners. Perhaps the area where they may need the most help is with their preparation or warm-up strategies, because for many of them, unfortunately, it does not exist. While there are numerous approaches to warming up for running, many strategies are not as well thought out as others. At best, we might find a client who participates in the “old-school” way of stretching a couple of muscles for a few seconds (usually quadriceps, calves and/or hamstrings) followed by a slow jog for five minutes before running at a preferred pace. Not very comprehensive, but at least it is an attempt. But we are just as likely to find clients who fail to warm up at all. Many simply hit the ground (or treadmill) running at the same pace from start to finish. No warm-up. No cool-down. Just running.

Warming up is rarely considered “fun” and is often de-prioritized, especially when time is limited. Many view warming up (and cooling down) as a disruption to the run itself by cutting into valuable running time. After all, if you only have 45 minutes to run, five minutes to warm up before and five minutes to cool down after drastically reduces running time and therefore reduces the benefits… right?

Not so fast. General warm-ups (walk before jog, jog before run) have long been accepted as beneficial, not only for injury prevention, but for performance/workout enhancement as well. Increases in core temperature, blood flow, oxygen uptake, improvements in neuromuscular efficiency, and mental preparedness and focus are all aspects that can provide both short- and long-term benefits. Therefore, even if the time running is reduced by a few minutes, greater benefits can be found by incorporating proper prep and recovery strategies.

Running Specific Warm-ups

Dynamic flexibility options to improve total-body functional movement should be incorporated for all activities, including running. But more sport-specific and athletic styles of warm-ups can elevate running to a new level. Running, of course, is a single-plane motion (sagittal plane—running straight ahead). By adding some multiplanar running maneuvers, clients can stimulate the muscles and joints in ways that can transfer to better mechanics when running straight ahead. Athletes in other sports have long used these types of exercises because most other sports require multiplanar, dynamic movements. Runners may overlook these because running does not require side-to-side or rotational movements. But it is for this very reason that runners should incorporate these movements. By moving through the foot, ankle, hip and spine in a three-dimensional, multiplanar fashion, runners can better protect themselves from the repetitive, single-plan impact that is inherent in running.

Multiplanar Run/Walk Drills

The following exercises can be performed for 10 to 20 reps/steps or 10 to 20 seconds. Each drill can be separated by a walk or light jog in between.

Rotation running/walking

Running straight ahead, but with rotations every couple of steps by looking backwards. This can help reduce stiffness and mobilize the hips and spine in the transverse plane. If one side feels tighter, spend more time on that side. It is important that as much of the body turns 180 degrees to see behind you. It should not be a head turn, but a torso turn.

Walk or jog backwards

Walking/jogging is a great way to influence foot mechanics. By making contact with the toes first, the toe motion will be exaggerated and help enhance the toe-off. The foot can “loosen” functionally and with stability. When turning around to move straight again, stepping and impact should feel different and more in-tune.


At a light jogging pace, stay on the balls of the feet and exaggerate the knee motion by kicking the heels to the glutes. This can increase spring and absorption of mid-foot landing and can dynamically mobilize the quadriceps.

High knees

At a light jogging pace, stay on the balls of the feet and exaggerate a high-knee action. Emphasize springing off of the balls of the feet through soft landings. This can increase absorption and reflexive power in the mid-foot strike.

Side shuffles

To move the foot, ankles and hips in the frontal plane. This move works the foot/ankle into pronation to supination (eversion to inversion) of the lead/pulling leg and supination to pronation (inversion to eversion) of the trail/push-off leg. Hip adductors and abductors activate, move and stabilize the hips. This move is helpful with lateral stability and neuromuscular efficiency.


Leg crossovers (cariocas in athletics and grapevine in group exercise) work from toe to neck, requiring the feet to dynamically decelerate and accelerate and help mobilize the hips and spine.

When first applying these methods, start your clients slowly to develop the appropriate coordination and control. Too much too soon can actually be fatiguing for the run. However, it does contribute to the workout itself. When performed at the right level, these drills will serve as great mechanical and physiological warm-up activities. If your client runs on a treadmill, these movements can be performed in a fitness studio using the length of the studio from wall to wall. If the studio is small, simply do more rounds of each drill.

Allowing your clients to practice and believe that every available minute should be spent running can be detrimental. Skipping preparation and recovery strategies does not lead to maximized results and it certainly does not contribute to pain-free running longevity. Teaching your clients how to take a few minutes to prepare, even if it shortens the run a bit, can help them run with better results for many years to come.

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