To Warm up or Not to warm up?
Updated: Jan 14
by Mandi Kowal
That should not even be a question.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at an event where too many athletes did not warm up. Usually the top dogs are the ones seen warming up, with a handful of others. But why should they be the only ones properly preparing? Friday, as I was an athlete's training plans for the upcoming week, I kept thinking, I need to make sure they warm up. It’s the way the best way to kick off your performance. It does the body good.
Let’s check out some of the benefits.
Of course, there are the physical benefits that are well known including increases in blood flow, metabolism, body temperature, oxygen intake, and muscle elasticity. As a result, muscle tension is reduced, and the body will adapt to harsh weather conditions more easily. The warm up will improve your ability to perform and your willingness to exercise is intensified. All of these are critical to physically prepare your body for the event. But let’s not overlook these other important benefits as well:
1. It establishes a race-day routine. When a warm up routine is established in your training, and you use it on race day, it can minimize the racer's anxiety. It becomes something you're used to and can keep the butterflies in check.
2. It give you a mental edge. When an athlete is warming up, you can see the focus. It becomes the catalyst to performing. I’ve seen this with athletes of all ages and levels and it's so fun to witness!
What happens if you don’t warm up? Here are some negative affects you might experience from not warming up:
A body that is not be physically ready to race to take on the demands of racing
Elevated stress from standing around waiting for the event
Increased chance of injury
Lack of mobility leading to inhibited motion and sub-peak performance
Energy wasted at the front end of your event getting your body ready
Still, with this information we see too many athletes skipping the warm up. Why? One of the most common reasons is that athletes feel they are saving energy for the race/event and they don't want "waste" it. Another reason is that athletes believe their intended intensity doesn’t warrant a warm up, meaning they aren’t racing. Or maybe an athlete is so stressed about completing the event they are a bit paralyzed by fear and stand around waiting for the event to get started.
What I want you to know is this: no matter if you're racing or taking it easy in a race, a warm up can make your experience better. So take advantage of that pre-race time and warm up. When you do keep these things in mind:
The shorter and more intense your race is going to be, the more extensive your warm up should be.
For a longer the event, like an Ironman, mobility is key for your warm up to start the swim.
In a triathlon, DO get in the water, even if it’s for a short bit.
Practice your warm up during your training, I like to practice mine before my track workouts.
What should it look like? Here's an example of an effective warmup we’ve been using.
Step 1 - 10-15 min of rolling out feet, legs and IT bands using lacrosse ball and foam roller. (Can be done at hotel/home.)
Step 2 - 5-10 min of Dynamic Stretching
Knee to chest hug x 7 each leg
Hip/glute stretch x 7 each leg
Frankenstein Walks x 7 each leg
Atlas x 7 each leg
Butt kicks x 10 kicks each side
Inchworm x 7
Side lunge x 7 each leg
Quad stretch x 7 each leg
Step 3 - 1 Mile run building intensity to Zone 2. Then complete 4 x 24-Step bursts building your speed every 8th step. Your rest is walking back to the start. For these, you count steps on one leg.
Note: Plan to finish the warmup 10 minutes before the start of the race.
So be the athlete warming up! You’ve put too much time, energy and money into this event to skip it.