How to Warm-Up Correctly for a Race
The warm-up is an important part of any workout, and one of the most important aspects of a good race.
A good warm-up helps prepare the body to run hard, race fast, and will help make your workouts easier and more productive
Why is a Warm-up Important?
Warming-up before a hard workout increases blood flow to your running-specific muscles.
The increased blood flow considerably reduces your chance of injury by making you more limber, lubricating the joints and tendon sheaths, and waking up the muscles to get them ready for hard running.
By just starting a race or fast interval without warming-up, you dramatically increase your risk of muscle strains including hamstring and piriformis as well as increasing the likelihood of flaring up your achilles, patellar, or posterior tibilial tendinitis.
Have you ever done an interval workout where you felt stiff or sluggish the first few repeats, only to start feeling better as the workout progresses?
The reason you feel this way, is that your body wasn’t quite prepared for the demands of hard running.
A warm-up primes your muscles for a workout or race by slightly increasing your core body temperature, which speeds oxygen throughout the body, and triggers the neural pathways between your brain and your muscles, which improves muscle contraction and power.
By warming-up before your hard workouts and races, you toe the line primed and ready for optimal performance, as opposed to needing the first few miles to get into a rhythm.
Establishing a good warm-up routine during your workouts helps fend off nerves during your important races.
We get nervous when we don’t know the outcome of things, like when the killer is going to jump out of the shower in a scary movie or how we’re going to feel half way through the race.
If you have an established warm-up routine, you can shift your focus from the unknown to something familiar. As you begin your warm-up, the nervousness will dissipate as you settle into familiar habits and start to recall your successful workouts and gain confidence.
How Should I Warm-up?
For your races, I suggest starting your warm-up 40-45 minutes before the race.
This provides you plenty of time to get to the starting line, go to the bathroom one last time, and sort any last minute affairs.
The only race distance you do not need to warm-up for is the marathon. Since you’re starting slower and need to conserve energy, you don’t need a warm-up. We have a separate post with how to warm up for the marathon.
Step 1: The warm-up should begin with easy running for 1-3 miles depending on your current mileage totals.
Most runners should complete a 2 mile warm-up. The pace doesn’t matter, but it should feel slow and easy. You’re not trying to set any records, just get the body primed for a good workout.
Step 2: After the run, stop and stretch for 5-10 minutes.
Stretching when your muscles are warm helps increase its effectiveness. You should focus on any muscles that are sore and tight or work through a general routine to hit all the major muscle groups.
Step 3: Run 2 x 30 sec strides at slightly faster than your goal workout or race pace.
Take a full 2-3 minutes rest between the two strides. The strides help send the signal to the body that it’s time to work hard and gets your heart rate elevated. The strides will also help you get on the correct pace during the first interval or mile, improving the overall quality of your workout or race.
Many runners skip this step to “save time”. These strides only take 4-5 minutes to complete, yet they boost your performance considerably.
After these simple 3 steps, you’ll be primed to maximize the benefits of your workout, run to your potential on race day, and stay healthy through the entire training cycle
After the race or workout, give yourself a few minutes to catch your breath, say hi to friends if you’re at a race, get some water, and start feeling good again.
When you feel like you’re recovered, run the specified number of miles on your schedule for your cool down.
The pace should be very easy and at a pace slower than you may even run on your easy days. The pace doesn’t matter. The focus of the cool down is on loosening up your tight muscles and gradually getting oxygen and nutrient rich blood to your legs.
Reward yourself with a recovery drink or snack and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!