Run Activation Drills: Pre-Run Warmups

Running Activation Drills – for Runners & Triathletes

These exercises activate or wake up the involved muscle groups, which gradually increase the number of motor units ready to go when you start your workout. They also help recruit muscles that are frequently overpowered by poor mechanics.

By waking them up prior to your workout, you help “remind” them of their job in the activity. You can also take a break mid workout and do them again to refresh the muscles’ memory. if you take any walking breaks in your running, it’s a great practice to do these before resuming your running again.

Bobby McGee, Olympic Running Coach and Running Consultant for USA Triathlon, has his athletes do these on non-running days as well, for example, while grocery shopping or waiting in line at the bank. Doesn’t take long and has a lot of benefit.
Each muscle group is tensed 6 times, 6 seconds on & 6 seconds relaxed. I typically do eight activations:

  • 4 lower muscle groups
  • abs/core
  • 3 upper body activations

Total time can be less than 5-8 minutes, but don’t rush them. You don’t have to do all of them every time, but try to do them all prior to an interval run, or as often as you like, including after a walking break in the middle of a run.


The first 3 lower body and the 3 upper body are shown in this video

Pre-Run Drills: Muscle Activations

Play Video:  Running Drills: Pre-Run Activation

Key points to remember for each:
Hamstring activation:

  • keep hips level
  • knee of active leg even with the knee of the opposite leg (and not forward)

Hamstring Activation - Pre Run Drills



Quadriceps Activation

  • keep foot/ankle relaxed and not tense.

Quadriceps Activation - Pre-Run Activities


Gluteus Medius

(You don’t need to lean forward as far as this video demo shows. You may want to hold a wall or fence post for support while practicing this)

  • leg back about 30-45 degrees behind you, and 30-45 degrees to the side.
  • ankle/foot relaxed


Gluteus Muscle Activation - Pre-Run Drills


In addition, I also do 2 more:
Soleus (calf muscle)

  • Stand with your weight evenly distributed on one foot, with that knee slightly bent
  • Rest the toe of the opposite foot in front of you about 6-8″, just enough to help keep your balance.
  • Push up through the first two toes of the standing foot to raise the heel off the ground
  • Gently lift the toes of the front foot off the ground so that all of your weight is on the toes of the standing foot
  • Hold for 6 seconds then relax & switch feet.

Abdominals (can be done with a partner or solo)
With a partner:

  • Stand straight up with your arms in front of you, elbows bent, hands toward the sky, resting your elbows on your partners outstretched hands.
  • Upper arm should be parallel to the ground
  • Contract your abs by trying to connect your elbows to the front of your pelvis bone. This is an isometric contraction and your partner needs to resist with enough force to keep your elbows from moving
  • Use 70-80% of your strength
  • hold for 6 seconds, then relax for 6 seconds, repeat 6 times.

If doing Abs solo, you can also find a high wall or fence, or do the exercise in a prone position on the ground as if doing the “plank” exercise and pulling your elbows towards your pelvis.


Upper Body Activation

Finally upper body activation will help in getting the full body engaged in running form especially if you are stiff from working all day (desk work especially), driving to a race, or from the previous days training (upper body lifting or swim)
Arm swings forward

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.01.08 AM



Arm Swings Reverse

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.01.55 AM


Alternate Arm Swings

Arm Swings Alternating

Happy Training,
Your Steel City Endurance Coaching Staff

Suzanne Atkinson, MD, USAT Certified
Anne-Marie Alderson, ITCA Certified
Don Larkin, USAT Certified
Michael Bauer, ITCA, USAT
Michael Brown, USAC

References: Bobby McGee (

Freestyle Swimmer Struggling to Breath

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