Turn up for any race and you’ll see the full spectrum of warm-up routines. From extensive protocols that take almost as long as the race itself to those that prefer to stay in the car with the heaters on until the last possible moment. Find out what you should and shouldn’t be doing to get the most out of your next trail or fell race.  Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.

An effective warm-up is essential for optimum and injury-free performance. Physiologically, building up the intensity of movement creates the necessary increased blood flow, lubrication of joints and increased elasticity of musculature. A warm-up for any given activity should mirror the movements that are to be performed, progressively taking the joints up to the range and demand that will be expected of them. A regular pre-performance routine ‘reminds’ the body of what is imminent hopefully making your prior state irrelevant, whether you have just woken up, come from sitting for hours at a desk or driven miles to get to the start-line of an event.

Psychological benefits to warming up include the anecdotal (“getting into the zone”), and empirical – research has shown that performance is improved by following a range of protocols – warming up being one of the most powerful. Physical preparedness goes hand-in-hand with mental, and in the case of a trail run, the required ‘relaxed state’ and loose quick feet, are difficult to achieve from ‘cold’. The shorter and more intense the event, the longer the warm up should be. This is because events of shorter duration often require increased levels of force through the body, as well as little or no build up from start to all-out effort. Mobilisation drills are an integral part of the process, but should not be confused with static stretching which should never be used in a warm up. It has been shown to be detrimental to performance, and can produce minor trauma due to cold muscle fibres being stretched; a risk which is dramatically reduced when stretching warm muscles, post-event.

Start with a 5-minute jog and then alternate each of the movements shown with a 30-second burst of jogging. Perform each action using alternating limbs (where applicable) for a total of 20 reps. The jogging bursts should get progressively quicker, and work well as part of a shuttle. Finish with a final 5-minute jog, striding out with longer strides than normal. The whole routine should take 20 minutes, timed so that you finish 10 minutes before the start to allow time for a toilet stop and final preparations.

Remember to go through your post-event cool-down (see last month’s edition for more on this). A well-structured and thorough sequence of mobilisations and stretches should be thought of as not just the best way to return the body to its pre-workout state, but as the beginning of the preparation for your next workout.


High Knees

A great fast-paced mobiliser with raises the pulse, and develops range of motion in the glutes and hamstrings.

  • Stand tall, with your abdominals engaged, and chest ‘up’.
  • Without leaning forward, raise the knees, one at a time, as high as you can, alternating from foot-to foot.
  • Focus on keeping the movement smooth, and landing with light, fast feet.


Walking Lunges

This movement mobilises the hip flexors, and activates the glutes.

  • Stand normally, with your hands by your sides, and your shoulder blades retracted.
  • Stride forward with one leg, and bend both knees to about ninety degrees; the knee of the rear leg should nearly touch the floor.
  • Drive forward off the front foot, keeping the heel down.
  • Step through and repeat with the other leg.

Heel Flicks

Another fast-paced drill, aimed at activating the hamstrings and lengthening the quadriceps

  • Stand tall, with your arms by your sides and slightly behind you; the hands should be over your rear with the palms facing backwards.
  • Moving quickly from leg-to-leg, flick the heel up towards your hands.
  • Keep the head high, eyes facing forwards and shoulder blades pulled together and down.
  • Light, fast feet required here, try to spring from the toes and avoid the heels ‘stomping’ the floor.



An exercise used for developing speed and power, when used in this context bounding is a challenging drill which will add some spring, eccentric control and resistance work into your pre-race routine.

  • From standing, spring into a large stride forwards and sink your weight down on to the lead leg, swinging your arms back.
  • Swing your arms forward to develop momentum, and drive forwards from the low position.
  • It should feel like a slower, more exaggerated, powerful version of your normal stride.


Calf Stretch Alternates

A great drill for mobilising the ankles and warming up the calves and lower leg.

  • From ‘all fours’ with your hips held high, place the feet together.
  • Push one heel down, while simultaneously lowering the other knee to the floor.
  • Build a smooth momentum switching from one leg to the other, rocking from one to the other.


Adductor Rocking

An excellent drill to loosen tight adductors, improving range of motion and reducing the chance of injury.

  • Stand with the feet parallel, outside ‘shoulder-width’ apart.
  • Gently bend one knee, moving it forward, letting the weight shift laterally over one leg.
  • Pause briefly, before reversing the action and shifting the body back to centre, before moving over to the over leg.
  • Steadily build momentum, rocking from side to side.


Cradle Walks

Another mobiliser, aiming to specifically increase the range of external rotation at the hip.

  • Stand tall, and pull one foot upwards, with both hands. Keep the foot in line with the shin, using one hand over the ankle, with the other under the foot.
  • Make sure you keep the back upright, and the shoulder blades retracted, pulling the leg up rather than leaning forward.
  • Place the foot down and repeat on the other side.


Warrior Lunges

This movement adds an arm movement into the standard walking lunge, which increases the mobilising effect on your hip flexors.

  • Stand tall, before raising the left arm, holding it vertically. Leading with the right leg, stride into and hold a ‘long-lunge’ position, with the rear (left) knee held just off the floor.
  • Pause briefly at the bottom, before driving back off the leading leg, returning to the start position.
  • Repeat on the other side, keeping the chin and chest up.


This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.

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