The Perfect Race-Day Warm-Up

Have you ever had the perfect warm-up? One where you were able to get your heart rate up to the ideal level, and your body and mind were at the right spot as the gun went off?

Earlier this spring I did the Haystack time trail in Boulder, Colorado, where I performed the perfect warm-up, and it got me thinking: What is the perfect warm up?

What I did that day: After an early morning of volunteering at the race, I did a 30-minute easy spin. Then, I added 1-minute and 90-second intervals at a building intensity up to my goal race wattage. These did not feel good.  Because I felt less than ideal I did not force the issue. I stayed calm and kept my watts low and my rest time between these efforts long. About 10 minutes before my race start it was time to wake up my body. I did my last warm-up set which is one minute in zone 3 (tempo) and 30 seconds in Z5 (vo2 watts), repeated for five minutes or longer.  After the first minute or so the engines light up. I felt great, and had a few minutes to relax before the start. I had a great race.

So, there you have it the perfect warm-up? right? Wrong!

Every race is different. Are you warming for a bike race or a triathlon? A five-minute time trial or an Iornman 70.3? What is the temperature like? Are you particularly tired that day or did you wake up feeling great?

More: The Real Reason You Should Warm Up

The key to finding the best warm-up is to listen to your body and be aware of your environment.

This will give you the information you need to alter your warm-up so it best suits you and the task at hand.

Does your race call for cold temps and rain? Warm up on your treadmill or trainer before leaving the house.

Does your triathlon have you waiting in cold water before the start? Try treading water in a way that slightly mimics a freestyle stroke to help keep your muscles warm.  

Case Study: I had an athlete that was getting ready for an uphill time trial one day. The race required less than 20-minutes of a very hard effort. He was tired after working all night and had tight legs from spending lots of time in a car. We decided he should do a 90-minute, VERY easy warm-up. He took in fluids on the ride and consumed his favorite energy drink 45 minutes prior to the start. Fifteen minutes before the start he did four or five, one-minute efforts at his goal race wattage with the last 30 seconds of the last interval at max. He felt great, set a PR (20-minute power output), and placed in the top 10 in his field. 

More: Prime the Engine: Your Optimal Race-Day Warm-Up

Try these tips to find your perfect warm-up:

  • Create a general plan that you can alter depending on your race length and how you feel.
  • The shorter your race, the longer and more intense your warm-up should be.
  • Warm up slowly. Don't let the energy of race day affect your warm-up pace.
  • Create a timetable for race day so simple tasks, like eating, don't get overlooked.
  • Always build up to your race pace; then do a few short efforts above this pace. 
  • Long rests. Give yourself long rest intervals between your warm-up efforts. 
  • Warm up your mind. Do what makes you the most comfortable. I like to be around people to talk and joke around. Some people like to put on their headphones and be alone.

In short: know thy self, know your environment, be able to adapt, and always stay relaxed.

More: 6 Secret Weapons in Dave Scott's Arsenal

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