But first, a disclaimer (because I'm an attorney, and such things are second nature).
This is MY routine that addresses MY specific weaknesses. I'm not recommending this as a general routine for others. I think that most runners could benefit from a pre-run routine, especially those who are older or injury-prone. But the structure of that pre-run routine should be individually tailored to that runner's needs.
So... what are my issues? Currently the big ones are:
- a wonky left SI joint that likes to pop out of place when I'm asleep (and yes, I've tried different sleeping positions).
- very tight psoas and quad muscles
- a right abdominal muscle that likes to fall asleep
- glutes that like to fall asleep
- shoulders that are usually tense and tight.
The routine to address my issues, in chronological order:
- A yoga supine spinal twist: I lay on my back and then pull one knee into my chest while the other leg remains extended. Then I twist across my torso - pulling the left knee across to the right, or vice versa. Most mornings, I get a nice pop in my left hip when I do this (and I walk much straighter after). Occasionally I get a pop in the right hip, though that's the exception, not the rule
- Several gentle lunges, alternating right and left leg forward. I start with low lunges on each side (hands on floor) and build to a high crescent lunge on each side (torso erect, arms extended above). Between each lunge, I return to a down dog pose, often including a down dog split pose where the leg that was just forward is now extended and curved behind me.
- A warrior two sequence. I assume warrior two pose from yoga, holding for 5 breaths. Then into extended side-angle pose, with one forearm gently resting on my knee while the other arm extends overhead. I prefer the variant where the forearm rests on my knee over the version where one's hand touches the floor because I find the first to be a better stretch for the psoas.
While holding side angle pose, I do five slow large circles with the extended arm - basically a backstroke-type motion. Then I return to warrior two.
Next, while still in warrior two foot pattern, I clasp my hands behind my back and perform a version of humble warrior two, but with my torso folded down halfway between my two legs (traditional humble warrior two has the torso fold much closer to the front leg). When done this way, it's a nice groin stretch.
Then I return to warrior two, and stretch backwards into reverse warrior. Hold for 5 breathes. Then return back to extended side angle pose for a second time, this time holding the pose stable for 5 breaths, feeling the nice psoas stretch.
Once I've done that all on one side, I repeat on the other.
- Quad stretching. I hold the couch stretch as defined by Kelly Starrett for 3 minutes on each side. For the first minute, I lean fairly forward, for the second minute my torso is at roughly a 45 degree angle from the floor (and the wall). For the third minute, I'm limber enough for my torso to be roughly perpendicular to the floor (as shown in the picture).
- Turning on the abs - I lie down on my back again, and perform 10 eagle crunches on each side.
- Turning on the glutes - I perform single-leg deadlifts on each side, holding a old closet rod in both hands as a balancing aid (I find it easier to do single-leg deadlifts with a light bar than with nothing at all. I suspect this is for reasons similar to why tight-rope walkers use a bar for balance). I don't have a prescribed number of repetitions here - I do the deadlift motion until it feels easy and I'm not wobbling - at that point, my glutes are awake.
- Tight shoulders - I place a tennis ball against a wall and self-massage my shoulders, back, and pectorals, working out all the knots (there are always knots).
Then, I'm done. That's the 15 minute routine (longer if the cats try to help).
The abbreviated version includes steps 1 and 2, plus extended side angle (from step 3) on each side for 5 breathes. Then I hold the first minute of the couch stretch (step 4) before skipping step 5. I do a few quick deadlifts on each side (step 6), and then skip step 7, heading out the door.
I do the "full routine" before any key run - i.e. a race or a workout. For other runs, I prefer to do the full routine as well, but often I'm crunched for time and do the abbreviated version.
I never run without doing at least the abbreviated routine. It's simple - if I don't warm-up before I run, I have a lousy awful run and feel sore after, with my traditional injury areas flaring. If doing the routine means that I'm late for my run, then so be it.
I'll also do parts of this routine (especially the couch stretch) at other times in the day as well. The more open my hips are, the better.
One obvious question is whether the order I do these exercises in matters. The answer is yes, if I'm doing these in the morning, pre-run.
I always start with getting my SI joint in whack. (Why do we say "out of whack" but never "in whack"?) I need to have my hips level before doing anything else to stretch or activate.
Steps 2-4 are all hip/groin stretches increasing in intensity. Were I to do the couch stretch first, I'm afraid I'd pull something.
Once my hips are open, then I get the abs engaged with step 5. I've found that if my hip flexors are tight, then they do some of the work that my abs should be doing, so I prefer to loosen the hip flexors with steps 2-4 before targeting the abs.
The glutes (step 6) come after that - in order for my glutes to fire correctly, I need to have my hips open, and having my abs engaged helps.
The final step, tennis balling my shoulders, is the one exception - that one can be done at any time. Or shortchanged, if I've got limited time. I put it last simply because it's the lowest priority.
The other obvious question: where do I get the time?
Honestly, I just make it happen. Like brushing my teeth or cleaning the litter box - two other things that must get done before I leave the house in the morning. I get up earlier in the morning to fit it in. And if I have to start my run later and run less miles, then oh well.
Avoiding injury is much more important than any individual run.