Keep Running Strong with These Three-Dimensional Warm-Up Tips

With the sunshine and blue skies of spring approaching, you may be preparing to lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement after a long winter hiatus—or because you want to try running as a new way to keep fit. While running does provide a great cardiovascular workout, if you haven’t run in a while, or you have been running on a treadmill (a very different surface than the pavement and grass you might encounter outside), or you are running  for the first time, you may experience pain in your shins, heels, hips and other body parts. If you think this pain is just the price you pay when you ramp up your running, think again. You should be able to run pain-free if your body is has the movement it needs to accomplish the work you are asking it to do.

To help your body prepare to run, it is important to warm up properly. The following tips can help you reduce your chance of being sidelined this spring by a running injury. Remember, before starting any exercise program, you should check with your physician.

Warm up using movements in all three planes of motion

Most injuries occur when we lack a critical motion that is required for the movement we want to do. In everyday movement there are three planes of motion; the sagittal plane (forward and back), the frontal plane (side to side), and the transverse plane (rotational).


You may think of running as a forward (sagittal plane) motion. While it is true that when you are running, you are moving through the sagittal plane, your body, and all of your joints and muscles, are also moving through the other planes of motion. If we repeatedly try do a certain movement (such as running) over and over, again without having all of the motion it requires, at some point, our body will break down and the result will be pain and injury.


An effective warm-up that helps you to avoid physical problems moves your body through all three planes of motion and may include movements such as:

  • Jogging, which gently puts your body through all three planes of motion.
  • Three-dimensional movement such as shuffling and skipping forward, back, and side-to-side.
  • Lunging through the three planes of motion including forward, side, and backward lunges.
  • Hopping, in particular, is a great addition to a pre-run workout because it mimics the body’s running motion—where you never have two feet on the ground and you are propelling yourself from one foot to the next.
  • Carioca exercise. Start with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart, then use your left foot to push off, crossing it behind the right foot and transferring your weight onto it. Then move your right foot to the side until you’re back to your starting stance. You can do several repetitions of this activity moving right for 30 seconds and then repeating it for 30 seconds going to the left.

In addition to the warm-up above, proper stretching will also help you to avoid injury. Ballistic (bouncing) stretches should not be used (they will do more harm than good) instead, stretch in a way that moves your body through all three planes of motion. You may wish to consult a qualified movement specialist for specific stretches to complement your running program.

As you get ready to start or rejuvenate a running routine this spring, remember that doing activities that you love should not be painful. While a good warm-up and smart stretches are just two parts of a comprehensive running program, they are a great start toward running injury-free. Most importantly, take care of your body and move it three-dimensionally!

Benjamin Pawson is a sports movement specialist and clinical assistant 3D Physical Therapy and Sports Training (3DPT) which provides functional physical therapy and sports performance training at its Adrian and Tecumseh, Michigan clinics. For more information about 3D PT, please visit