Running injury specialist Matt Phillips shows how to adopt a more dynamic warm up rather than going for a simple stretch routine – that could even be making things harder for you!

Target Muscle/s: Quads & hip flexors
Sets & Reps: 10-20 alternating reps for each version
Tempo: Lower for 3, rise for 1
Frequency: Include in every dynamic warm up

Research shows that static stretching (long-hold stretching) before a run does not reduce injury and may actually decrease performance. Instead, a dynamic warm up involving controlled, repetitive sports-specific movements that mimic the way your muscles and connective tissues move during your chosen activity is probably a far better choice for most runners.

The Lunge Matrix (created by physical therapist Gary Gray and popularized by elite running coach Jay Johnson) is an excellent way of preparing the mind and body for the neuromuscular demands of running, ensuring the body and mind are ready for action. The five versions prepare for movement in all planes (sagittal, frontal and transverse) and in particular stimulate recruitment of the posterior chain (glutes & hamstrings) to aid propulsion and optimum movement.

The matrix can easily be modified to suit the needs of the individual; below is a standard progression that typically suits most runners.

  1. Forward LungeLunge
  • Take a long lunge forwards ensuring front knee does not pass over toe
  • Add a slight pelvic tilt so you feel a stretch sensation up back thigh/across back hip
  • Slowly lower back knee towards the ground (front knee does not move forwards)
  • Drive back to start position and repeat for other leg.
  1. Forward Lunge with Twist
  • Perform a forward lunge
  • As you move downwards, rotate the arms and torso over the front leg
  • Ensure knees stay pointing forwards as you rotate body
  • Feel an increase in stretch sensation across back hip as you rotate.
  1. Side Lunge
  • Take a long lunge sideways rotating foot out to 45 degrees
  • Slowly lunge down to side ensuring knee moves in line with toe
  • Drive back to start position keeping supporting leg 99% straight
  • Repeat to other side.
  1. Reverse Diagonal Lunge
  • As per side lunge but step backwards diagonally
  • Ensuring back knee stays in line with toe
  • Drive back to start position keeping supporting leg 99% straight
  • Repeat to other side.
  1. Reverse Lunge
  • As per forward lunge but step backwards
  • Add a little pelvic tilt before you lower to increase stretch sensation up back thigh / across back hip
  • Slowly lower back knee towards ground (front knee does not move forwards)
  • Drive back foot forwards to return to start position
  • Repeat for other leg.

How Many Repetitions?

Look to perform a total of 10-20 alternating repetitions for each of the five versions. Make sure the first few reps of each version are ‘baby lunges’, i.e. half movements. For example, don’t try to immediately lower the back knee all the way to the floor. Runners new to these movements may well find the greatest initial demands are balance and coordination but with practice these will develop. As always, if you feel pain seek advice from an exercise professional.

Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt