You might not spend too much time thinking about your prerun routine. You just head out the door and start running. But actually prepping your body to take on miles can make a major difference in your runs. Enter: mobility exercises that focus on helping you reach full range of motion through every step. Many pro athletes and coaches swear by the benefits of mobility exercises, including Nikki Hiltz, middle-distance runner, trans and nonbinary athlete, and Lululemon brand ambassador.

“All the little things add up to big performances,” Hiltz tells Runner’s World. “Mobility is just one of those many little things that can get you a half second better.” This is why Hiltz says mobility exercises are the key to every warmup.

It’s also why Hiltz teamed up with Strava’s partner app, Recover Athletics to demonstrate mobility workouts that all runners can benefit from doing before clocking miles. We spoke with the pro athlete to find out exactly why it’s important for all runners to improve their mobility, and which exercises you should incorporate into your prerun routine.

Why should every runner practice mobility exercises?

Your range of motion in a particular area, like your hips or ankles, is influenced by the tightness or looseness of the muscles surrounding the joints. Tight muscles can limit one’s mobility and increase risk of injury. But practicing dynamic stretches and mobility exercises before runs and even on off days are a great way to avoid being sidelined.

Since implementing this new warmup routine (outlined below) in March, Hiltz says their body always feels well-equipped to tackle any challenge. “My body is just less in shock. It just feels more warmed up, it feels looser,” they say. And there’s research to prove that mobility work can improve performance for all runners, not just the pros.

In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2015 including seven well-trained distance runners, researchers found that after runners performed a dynamic stretch routine, they were able to sustain hard efforts while completing a treadmill workout, compared to those who didn’t stretch. What’s more, a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health journal in 2021, involving eight male endurance runners, found that including dynamic stretches in a warmup improved running economy and perceived exertion.

How does Hiltz incorporate mobility exercises into their training?

Hiltz practices mobility exercises to prepare for any type of run—sprint workouts, long recovery runs, and especially on race day.

The beauty about practicing these mobility exercises though, Hiltz says, is you can perform them any time you experience tightness—not just leading into a race. For Hiltz, this means practicing a few mobility exercises in their hotel room after a long flight or whenever they stand or sit for long periods of time.

“The thing with these is they’re not taxing on your body at all,” they say. “It’s really to do the opposite. It’s really to help you recover and get the blood flow moving. I don’t think there would ever be a time where you shouldn’t do them.”

Below you will find all the details on how to incorporate this warmup into your routine so that your muscles are fully prepared at run time. Hiltz says focus on being intentional with every rep to get the most out of these exercises.

6 Pro-Approved Mobility Exercises to Add to Your Routine

How to use this list: Hiltz suggests practicing this workout as a part of your warmup. Perform the exercises in the order below for 8 reps each (8 each side for single-sided exercises). Do 1 set, but if you want to repeat for another, go for it.

Each move is demonstrated by Hiltz so you can mimic proper form. An exercise mat is optional.

1. Cat Camel

Why it works: Hiltz says this yoga-inspired move is one of her go-tos because it helps wake up the muscles surrounding their spine and hips.

How to do it: Start on all fours, with shoulders over wrists, knees under hips, and hands shoulder-width apart. Inhale and arch back, looking up toward ceiling and dropping belly button to floor, like a cat stretching its spine. On the exhale, round back in the other direction, tucking chin to chest and pulling belly button up toward ceiling. Repeat.

2. Cobra Dog

Why it works: This is another one of Hiltz favorite moves because it helps ensure the upper body is aligned and open before runs.

How to do it: Start on all fours, shoulders over wrists and knees under hips, hands about shoulder-width apart. Lift hips and straighten knees to come to a downward-facing dog pose. This is your starting position. On an exhale, in a sweeping motion, bend elbows and drop hips, arching back and looking up toward the ceiling to come into a cobra pose. On the inhale, lift hips back to downward-facing dog, chest coming between shoulders. Repeat.

3. Inverted Bicycle

Why it works: The inverted bicycle kicks, Hiltz says, helps them increase blood circulation in their legs so that muscles are properly warmed up before runs.

How to do it: Lie face up on floor. Lift legs and hips off the floor, supporting low back with hands. Straighten legs toward the ceiling. Just like you would in bicycle crunches, pull one knee in toward chest, and in a circular motion, straighten it back toward ceiling. As you’re straightening that leg, bend the other toward chest. Continue alternating.

4. Tick Tok

Why it works: This move targets the back, hips, and sides of the body—all spots that can feel tight, particularly after sitting.

How to do it: Stand with feet together. Extend both arms overhead and lace fingers together. Lean to the left while pushing hips to the right. Then come back through center and lean to the right, pushing hips to the left. Start by moving between ten o’clock and two o’clock and then progress to nine o’clock and three o’clock if possible. Keep eyes up, chin up, and shoulders back and down. Continue alternating.

5. Donkey Kick

Why it works: Hiltz says practicing this move helps them isolate their hip joints and get their glutes activated and firing, which pays off in power on the run.

How to do it: Start on all fours, with shoulders over wrists, knees under hips, and hands shoulder-width apart. With left foot dorsiflexed (toes to shin) and left knee bent at 90 degrees, engage glute and kick leg up and back. Keep right leg and arm stable, and back flat—avoid arching in the low spine. Repeat. Then switch sides.

6. Donkey Whip

Why it works: This is another great move for activating your glutes, says Hiltz, but it will also challenge your core stability.

How to do it: Start on all fours, with shoulders over wrists, knees under hips, and hands shoulder-width apart. Extend left leg back behind you, heel in line with hips. This is your starting position. Keeping shoulders and hips square to floor and core engaged, move left leg out to the left side of body as far as you can go without breaking form. Return to starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides.

To get more routines from Hiltz and other pro athletes, like Nell Rojas and Keira D’Amato, check out Strava’s Recover Athletics app.

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