Perfecting your own warm up

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Warm ups  are an integral part of your daily training routine and paramount to your race day preparation.  Everyone should have a warm up designed and tailored to their own needs.  Your warm up should not simply be what your squad does, nor what others around you are doing pre-race.  A warm up requires a lot of experimentation with intensities, activities and duration, so it is right for you.  

Lockdown, or periods when racing is limited, provides a good opportunity to perfect your warm ups, because warm up locations pre-race tend to be in confined areas, just like a lockdown. 

Here are some tips and ideas on how you can work on perfecting your own warm up.  

Why do we need to warm-up?

A good warm up will prepare your body for the upcoming training session or race.  Warming up prepares your muscles, heart, lungs and even your mind for the more strenuous work to come.  This is how you are specifically preparing yourself – 

  • Muscle Temperature Increase – warmer muscles will work more efficiently, improving muscle elasticity thereby enhancing speed and strength.  Warmer muscles are also less likely to become injured through overstretching.
  • Blood Temperature rises – As the temperature of blood increases, as it moves through warming muscles, blood flow increases making oxygen become more readily available for working muscles, improving endurance.  Increasing blood flow also causes the blood vessels to dilate, reducing stress on the heart.
  • Your range of movement increases – warmer muscles and ligaments allow larger joints to reach their maximum movement range. 
  • You have a chance to mentally prepare – The warm up provides time for an athlete to clear the mind, increase focus and review race tactics and thoughts.  Warming up the mind is a very valuable pre-race tool.

Tips to Warming up

A triathlon warm up needs the following elements – 

  • Cardio, increasing in intensity,so some short race pace elements are added towards the end of the warm up.
  • Range of movement exercises including dynamic stretches.
  • Personal injury prevention/activation exercises prescribed to you by your coaching/support team.
  • Specific discipline specific skills warm up (i.e. different elements for swim, bike and run).
  • Mind preparation.

In Triathlon, as in every sport we have two types of warm ups – 

  1. Training warm ups – The time dedicated to prepare your body and mind for a training session.  This needs to remain specific to the discipline you are about to train.
  2. Pre-race warm ups – The time dedicated to prepare your mind and body to perform at the highest level in a race.  This needs to be tailored to provide you with the confidence of a fast swim start while also preparing you for the physical and mental requirements of the swim, bike, run disciplines and the two transitions of the race may bring upon you.  This warm up should call upon elements of your training warm ups, becoming more swim specific the closer to race start.  Your race warm up needs to also be flexible enough to adapt to the various pre-race athlete requirements (like marshalling) including any restrictions you may have on access to equipment and the field of play (race venue).

So what makes a good pre-race warm up?

Keeping in mind, a warm up requires experimentation from yourself, typically race day would follow a routine similar to below.

  • Consider Race start

If your race start is in the late morning or afternoon, consider having a 15 minute easy jog followed by 4 fast accelerations/strides of about 60m or a short swim in the hotel pool or a 30 minute ride on a trainer in your room when you wake up.  This will get your body moving, loosen your muscles and set your mind for the race later on that day.  Your choice of discipline here may depend on your personal preference and consideration of access you will have to the race course to warm up pre-race.  For example, if you know the swim course will be closed, swim now in the hotel pool or water nearby so you have at least activated your swim muscles.

  • Know your pre-race athlete requirements

Check any races that may be taking place prior to your race start.  This will restrict your ability to warm up on the course and surrounding areas.  Keep in mind that major events will also have increased spectator attendance, further restricting your ability to move around freely in warm ups.

Also consider the pre-race rules and requirements, marshalling, and check in times.  Generally, the last 15-20 minutes prior to race start will require you to be marshalled in a small confined space.

  • Plan your pre-race

Race preparation for a triathlon required a lot of organisation.  With transitions to set up, you must make sure you give yourself enough time to set up transitions, and warm up, while also factoring in timings as point 2 above.

  • Consider the weather

As endurance athletes we race in all kinds of weather.  Different weather conditions affect our bodies in different ways, and it is important you know how your body reacts.  For example, if you get cold easily and it is a cold, wet race day consider doing a land only warm up for the swim.  Personally, I used to find getting into cold water and then exiting to marshall pre-race left me feeling cold despite wearing a wetsuit.  I then found it very difficult to warm up for the race.  Conversely if you are not used to hot weather, reduce your warm up so you are not increasing your body temperature too much prior to race start.  

  • Essential Elements
    • Throughout a warm up you must always be considering your race plan and maintaining a positive focus.  When your mind wanders, practice bringing your thoughts back to what you need to do in each discipline, and try not allow your mind to wander and get caught up in where you want to finish.  
    • Cardio – 15-20 minute light jog (if you can’t run consider skipping with a rope).
    • Dynamic Stretching – go through your stretching routine developed to activate muscles and their full range of movement.  This must include the upper and lower body.
    • Complete run warm up with 4-6 fast short accelerations/strides to warm up at pace
    • Last minute check on transition – if you have time, you can return to transition and make sure all is still ok.
    • Move to a more swim specific warm up – 
      • Wetsuit on?
      • Swim out to first turn easy, check the navigation to turn 2.  Swim back to swim start adding a few 12-20 stroke fast efforts.
    • You may have to complete your warm up on dryland –
      • Consider stretch cord routines. 
      • Have a good routine of dynamic stretches to activate swim muscles.
    • Attend pre-race requirements, while also remaining stretching and keeping yourself moving.  You also need to remain mindful at this point on your race strategy and positive thought processes.

Given the above, there is a lot to consider regarding warm ups and given Triathletes need to be prepared for 3 disciplines there is a risk you could try to do too much pre-race.  

While 2020 is a time of little racing, use the period to experiment and try different exercises to prepare your body for your training sessions; see which exercises prepare you better and leave you feeling ready to go; try alternative routines.  Experiment on the length of your warm up and see how your main training session goes following shorter warm ups or longer warm ups.