A brief walk is one way of warming up your knees.
Sometimes it's tempting to just hit the trail and run fast, especially if the weather is perfect or you really need to blow off some steam. Taking time to ease into your pace and warm up, however, could make the difference between a successful run and a knee injury that will set back your training. A good warmup doesn't have to take long, but it will prepare your knees to handle the impact from running and help you sustain the pace you're targeting for your workout.
Why Warm Up?
The knee is the most commonly injured joint among runners, and about 40 percent of running-related injuries involve the knee. Because runners use their knees more than most people, in ways that impact the joint more than most activities, it's especially important for them to warm up properly. Running-related knee injury risks can include:
- Runner's knee
- Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome
- General overuse injuries
Walk It Out
It might seem too basic, but walking is an incredible warmup for running and jogging. It mimics the actions you'll need to perform when moving faster, but saves you stress on your knee joints, allowing your body an opportunity to ease into more demanding work. A good rule of thumb for any workout is to start out at a low intensity and work your way up. If your ultimate running speed is a steady jog, or you have trouble running continuously for more than a few minutes at a time, start with a relaxed walking pace and gradually increase to a brisk pace over the course of about five minutes. If you're a more experienced runner or are incorporating speed work and sprinting into your workout, start with a faster walk and spend more of your warmup time at a comfortable jogging pace.
Strengthen with your Body Weight
After your walk or jog, your muscles will likely be warm enough to jump into slightly more intense activity. Work at strengthening the muscles surrounding your knee joint with body-weight exercises like lunges and squats. Try any combination of the following:
- 10 forward and 10 backward walking lunges
- 15 sumo squats
- 15 squats with feet shoulder-width apart
- 15 squats with feet together
- 10 side lunges, each side
Condition the Knee
Finally, work into more intense aerobic activity that will, as close as possible, match the demands of your run. Choose high-impact, weight-bearing exercises that will get your knees ready to go. Try skipping for one block, butt kickers for another and high knees for a third. If you experience pain during any of these exercises or during your run, stop and reduce intensity to see if the pain subsides. Always get a doctor to check out any pain that is severe or that lingers for longer than a couple of days.