Whether you're brand new to multisport, or you've been toeing the start line for decades, everyone can benefit from a well-executed warm-up on race day. Warming up has a wide range of physiological and psychological benefits for athletes, and if you want to meet your race day potential, it's non-negotiable. If you haven't already embraced the warm-up, take a look around at your next event for athletes swimming, biking, running, jumping and doing all sorts of other strange things before they even reach the swim start—then get ready to join the party!
Why Warm Up?
A proper warm-up increases muscle temperature (making for faster contraction and relaxation), increases body temperature (increasing muscle elasticity), increases our range of motion, activates the body's cooling mechanisms, increases available carbohydrate and fat calories available for energy production, and dilates the blood vessels for increased blood flow. All of these physiological changes allow athletes to start faster and stronger than they would be able to otherwise, while avoiding the potential injuries that can come from diving right in (no pun intended) while the muscles are still "cold." A good warm-up also provides psychological benefits, giving the athlete a last chance to visualize the race strategy while working out some of the pre-race jitters that inevitably come on race morning.
What Does a Good Warm-Up Consist Of?
First, let's talk length—believe it or not, the shorter the race, the longer the warm up should be. In long course races (half Iron-distance or longer), athletes can spend the first 15 minutes of the race warming up, and still have almost the entire race ahead of them by the time they are warm—not necessarily ideal, but easier to fake. However, in short course races (which generally require a faster start out of the gate and throughout the course of the race), an athlete could be halfway through the bike before his or her body has time to warm up to its physical potential. The ideal warm-up length is determined by the athlete's individual physical and mental needs. Just like every skill, warm-ups should be practiced, both in training and training races (races other than the "goal" race or races), to determine the most effective length and content. In the best case scenario, the warm-up will end approximately five minutes before the athlete's start time.
In general, warm-ups should include all three disciplines, going in the opposite order in which they occur during the race -- so, if the race is a standard swim/bike/run event, then the warm-up should go run, bike, then swim. As you might guess, the swim is the most crucial portion of the warm up, since it is the activity that the athlete has to do first; however, do not disregard the bike and run. Activating these muscles and joints ahead of time still gives you an edge when you get to these events. Warm-ups do not have to be just a low-intensity version of each activity . I encourage my athletes to include drills, dynamic stretching, fast intervals and other forms of neuromuscular activation. Athletes can also take this time to visualize the strategy for each portion of the race as they work through that part of the warm-up. This is also a great time to do a final equipment check.