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Optimizing Your Engine: Get race day ready with the proper warm-up

Renee Przystas • Jul 7, 2017 at 4:30 AM

It’s mid-racing season for the triathlon world, and many athletes already have multiple miles under their legs. Although it may seem that training is starting to reach peak performance, and you’re feeling confident about your current condition, there is one component of the triathlon that must not be overlooked — the warm-up.

It’s easy to forget about the importance of warming up when you’re already struggling with getting in all the miles required within a week or are trying to cope with pre-race jitters the morning of the race.

Of course swim technique, bike fit, and running form are important, but if no warm-up is integrated during training workouts or races, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of injury. A dynamic warm-up serves as benefit for prepping your muscular tissue to respond to racing demands and reduce risk of injury. Stimulating the muscles dynamically increases blood flow, activates important receptors in your body, and also excites your brain through the release of hormones. Here are a few quick tips to help you create an appropriate warm-up prior to your next training workout or race:

Create your warm-up to be global and individualized

Integrate all aspect of your body just as the sport of triathlon does. Include movements that get your ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders moving.

Plan the warm-up movements so they are similar to the movements you’ll perform during the race (or workout).

Swimming preparation could include rotation of the trunk/arms, overhead arm reaching extending side-to-side, and hip flexor stretching to help with kicking. Three-dimensional hamstring stretching, dynamic leg swings, and backward lunges are great for cycling. An example of running prep could include various runs such as high knees, toe in or out running, backward jogging, and lunges in various directions (forward, side-ways, backwards).

Spend time on the warm-ups specific to the duration of the workout

If you are doing a longer workout with less intensity, the warm-up should only be 5-10 minutes. If you are prepping for a fast 5k (short workout of high intensity), the warm-up should last a bit longer.

Take advantage of consistency

Your brain will recognize warm-ups that you have practiced during training. Remain consistent with warm-ups both during training as well as competition, adjusting intensity and duration according to the type of workout.

Be intentional about timing

Optimal warm-up should be completed with 10 minutes left till race start (or closer for a training workout). The physiological benefits of warming up, such as increased blood oxygenation, will still be active within this time frame.

Use Caution

Be sure not to overdue a warm-up. What you don’t want is to fatigue yourself from a warm-up that is too long or intense.

A triathlete is bound to thrive when they are injury-free and feeling confident with their training. During your next workout or race, reap the benefits through creating your own individualized warm-up. You may get a few ‘head turns’ from onlookers, but they won’t be laughing as you speed past them at your next event!

Renee is a sports medicine and women's health physical therapist who has more than 10 years of experience in triathlons, including competitive participation on Michigan State's collegiate team. She has competed in sprint distance to half ironman distance as well as multiple marathons.

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