By Coach Troy Jacobson
It’s track workout day and you arrive at the track a few minutes late. The coach has everyone get to the line to start a set of 6 x 400 Meters 10 sec. faster than your 5K race pace. You frantically finish lacing your race flats, take a sip of water and run up to the line. The coach says ‘go,’ and you take off with the group. Your legs feel stiff and cold, and at the first turn, you feel a sharp pain in your hamstring. Game over. You pull up, limp off the track and collapse onto the grass, injured. Why? It’s because you didn’t warm up properly.
The warm-up prior to an intense workout or race is critical for all athletes. Benefits include enhanced blood flow to skeletal muscles, activation of the aerobic energy system, increased mental alertness, enhanced nervous system recruitment and more. How one warms up; however, is very specific to the individual. Factors that dictate the scope of the warm-up include the distance of the event, as well as when it starts in relation to the warm-up.
As a rule of thumb, the shorter (and therefore faster) the event, the longer and more intense the warm-up should be. For example, a sprinter getting ready for a short event lasting less than 20 seconds will likely require more warming up than a long course triathlete preparing for an event of three hours or longer.
Warming up for triathlon is even trickier than warming up for a single sport event due to the involvement of three sports. Again, how you go about warming up for a triathlon is very individual and requires some level of trial and error to determine the best formula for your needs. Below are some suggestions to consider as a reference point in warming up for an Olympic distance triathlon.
- Run: Some people like to do a quick 10-15 minute run early in the morning before leaving the house for the transition area. Not only does this serve the purpose of stimulating the need for that necessary pre-race bathroom break, it also helps to wake you up and sharpen your focus. Other athletes will wait and do a 5-10 minute light run 30-45 minutes before their wave start. Insert a few dynamic stretches before the run, some 15-30 second striders (or pick-ups) during the run and some light static stretching after the run for best results.
- Bike: At most larger events where bikes are racked the night before, spinning the legs out on the bike presents some logistics related challenges. Highly motivated athletes will travel with a folding bike trainer and set up their bike in transition for a few minutes of pre-race pedaling. Otherwise, if you can roll out on the roads before the transition area closes and the race starts, start by pedaling easy for five minutes, then do a set of 3 x 30 second ‘openers’ (heart rate up to LTHR) on 30 sec. rest to get loose, then ride back and rack the bike. Usually 5-10 minutes total will do the trick.
- Swim: In races that allow for competitors to enter the water before their wave start, you should consider getting in 10-15 minutes beforehand. Swim around to get loose, then do a minute or so of your favorite drill (catch-up drill, anyone?), followed by a few 10-15 second ‘openers’ to prepare you for a fast start. In the event that you can’t get in the water, consider a series of dryland arm swings to loosen the shoulders and perhaps a few freestyle pulls using elastic tubing for a little resistance and to increase blood flow to your swimming muscles.
The bottom line is that warming up before your Olympic distance race start can be minimal but it’ll benefit you to do at least a little bit. Most important; however, is to establish a routine in which you’re comfortable and that provides you with the confidence and power necessary to have a fast and injury-free start.
Troy Jacobson is a former pro, creator of the Spinervals Cycling Video Series, Head Triathlon Coach for Life Time Fitness and Director of Life Time Endurance.