I tried these physio-approved dynamic stretches before a run and my hips and knees felt so much happier

Activate your muscles and prepare them for running with this physio's favorite dynamic stretches

Woman running along bridge
(Image credit: Zorica Nastasic / Getty Images)

I must confess that I mostly lace up my running shoes and head out for a run without much of a warm-up—occasionally I'll do a bit of walking or jogging before I get going but I don't bother with anything else. I've heard that dynamic stretches are the best way to prepare yourself for a run, but I'm hazy on the details.

I spoke to physiotherapist Helen O'Leary to find out what I should be doing before I hit the road.

About Our Expert
Helen O’Leary
About Our Expert
Helen O'Leary

Helen O'Leary is a physiotherapist with a background in elite sports. She trained with Polestar Pilates and in 2015 she founded Complete Pilates, a rehab-focused Pilates studio with three central London locations.

"The point of a warm-up is to get your body ready for exercise," says O'Leary, "and the reason is to prevent injuries. Dynamic stretches activate the muscles and tell them that something's going to happen so that they can then work more effectively and efficiently, and that will hopefully prevent any niggles.

"Also, if you've had injuries in the past, use exercises that activate those muscles. Adding that into your warm-up should mean you're less likely to get that injury again."

O'Leary also explained that holding a deep stretch is not generally recommended before a run. "Static stretching goes to the end range of the muscle and you hold the position," says O'Leary. "It's not going to activate the muscles; it's going to help them relax and calm down. So that's why we tend to use static stretching after exercise."

Instead, she suggested these four dynamic stretches to get your muscles activated before you head off for a run.

1. Pendulum leg swing and hip circle

Time: 30-45sec each side

  • Hold on to something stable and swing one leg forward and backward.
  • Halfway through the time, lift your leg out to the side and draw a circle with your foot. Rotate both ways.
  • Alternatively, swing one leg side to side.
  • Continue until the time has elapsed, then repeat on the other side.


"The pendulum swing warms up the muscles in the front and the back of the leg," says O'Leary. This helps prepare your quads, hamstrings and hip flexors for the motion of running. "The hip circles and side swing can help you with stability in the side of your hip, which you need when you run, because every time you strike the ground, you have one foot on the ground, not two," says O'Leary.

2. Lunge with overhead reach

Time: 30-45sec each time

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both knees to lower until your left knee is just above the floor.
  • Lift your left arm and reach over to the right.
  • Reverse the movement to the start.
  • Continue for the time allotted, then repeat on the other side


This move works on both strength and mobility. "This will release tension from the side of the body, from the rear leg, through your hip flexors and that side of your trunk," says O'Leary. "It will warm up the muscles around your hip, knee and ankle so it helps you with impact as well."

3. Standing spine rotation

Time: 30-45sec

  • Stand with your arms extended to the sides (or folded across your chest if that's more comfortable).
  • Rotate your upper body to one side, then then other, keeping the movement smooth and controlled.


"This gives you more freedom and mobility in your spine when you're running," says O'Leary.

4. Deep squat

Time: 30-45sec

  • Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart.
  • Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower as far as you can keeping your knees in line with your feet.
  • Ideally, your butt should come close to your heels. If your heels come off the floor, widen your stance.
  • Pause at the bottom of the squat and wiggle from side to side to warm up your hips.
  • Push through your heels to stand up.


"This works all the muscles around your hips and legs, and encourages some mobility in there too," says O'Leary.

I tried these dynamic stretches before a run

I tried these dynamic stretches before a run, and while initially it was frustrating because I felt impatient to get running, as I got into the warm-up I began to enjoy it.

The pendulum swing felt fine, not much different to a walking warm-up, but the hip circles were really enjoyable. The lunge felt great in my hip flexors, which I find are often tight from sitting at a desk, and the side bend felt satisfying. It was great to get some rotational movement into my back with the standing spine rotation. The deep squats really opened up my hips and banished any remaining stiffness there. I also added in some single-leg calf raises, because I've had ankle issues in the past.

After the dynamic stretch sequence my joints felt looser and my muscles felt activated and ready to go. During my run my joints felt great, and I felt bouncy and energized—I even ran a little faster than usual. In future I plan to start every run with these dynamic stretches.

Contributing writer

Camilla Artault is a fitness writer with a passion for running and yoga. She interviews experts and writes about a wide range of topics for Fit&Well encompassing health, fitness and nutrition.