Q: I’ve done several triathlons but have never warmed up before a race. Should I, and if so how and why?
A: Warming up is a crucial part of any training session and is particularly important before a race. If you don’t warm up correctly you are not going to race to your full potential and you will increase your chances of picking up an injury.
Renowned endurance-sport coach Joe Friel (trainingbible.com) says, “Warming up helps start the flow of fatty acids to the muscles for use as fuel, at the same time reducing the dependence on your carbohydrate stores. It raises the temperature of the working muscles and increases heart stroke volume [an important determinant of overall cardiac output] and lung capacity.”
A warm-up also opens up the capillaries, which allows more oxygen into the muscles and helps the nervous system control the muscles more efficiently. Finally, notes Friel, it helps reduce the ‘rate of perceived exertion’ so it won’t feel as hard at the start of the race. This is very important in triathlon where an intensive burst of effort is often required in a mass swim start. Most people find it takes a while to find a rhythm. If you warm up, you will be firing on all cylinders from the moment the race starts.
So, you should definitely warm up before any training session or race because doing so will greatly enhance your performance. My preferred method incorporates a 15-20-minute easy jog, increasing the tempo over the last five minutes until you are breathless. Next, do some dynamic stretches that mimic the movements your muscles will be doing in the race. (Dynamic stretching is stretching through gentle movements – it’s far more effective than static stretching, which does nothing to prepare the muscles for activity.) Follow up with running drills to further warm up the muscles.
On a hot or humid day, you won’t need to do as long a warm-up to feel ready for the race. Find more ideas on my DVD Flexibility for Triathletes and Runners from ralph-hydes.com.
Ralph Hydes is a running, duathlon and triathlon coach. He has helped many athletes reach international-level competition and has trained corporate teams for the London Triathlon since 2001. Ralph is a freelance coach, designing individual triathlon training programmes, providing one-to-one coaching and offering nutrition advice. His new DVD is Flexibility for Triathletes and Runners.