Last weekend I was at a track meet and watched how differently each of the athletes warmed-up for their events. It got me thinking about what exactly you're trying to accomplish with a warm-up, and some common mistakes that people make.
To me, the goal of the warm-up is to get your body ready to perform at full efficiency in the upcoming race. There are dozens of factors that go into this, but when I design a warm-up for my athletes, I'm really focusing on accomplishing four things:
Pretty simple, right? It should be, but let's look at a couple areas where people go wrong...
PROBLEM: Warming up too early This is probably the most common mistake people make in their warm-ups. They start jogging an hour or so before the race, and then when they finish they stand around and stretch for 45 min before heading to the start line. By that time, most of the benefit from your jogging is gone.
SOLUTION: There's two simple ways to attack this problem. If you feel that you really need a full hour before the race to go to the bathroom, stretch, etc. then try adding a 3-4 minute "up-tempo" run to your routine about 10-15 minutes before the start of the race. That will get your heart rate elevated again, get the blood flowing and muscles warm. Since it's so close to the start of the race you'll be able to keep your heart rate up by doing strides until the start.
The second approach is to simply warm-up closer to the race. When I design a warm-up for one of my athletes, I try to get them to think about what they do before a workout. Rarely do they start warming-up a full hour before they start running. And if a warm-up is good enough for a tough workout, shouldn't it be good enough for a race? Which brings me to a second common mistake ...
PROBLEM: Changing things up Most runners are pretty much creatures of habit. But for some reason, races tend to throw us out of sync. We start to do different warm-ups, different drills, all kinds of different preparation for a race than we do for a workout. In this case, variety is not your friend.
SOLUTION: If something is vital to your warm-up, you should be doing it before your workouts as well as your races. If something isn't important, then you can take it out of your routine completely. I always recommend using the same warm-up routine before races that you do before workouts. That way your body is in a normal rhythm. And it provides a nice, calming routine that can help focus you in all the chaos that occurs on race day.
Following those two basic pieces of advice will take you a long way to maximizing your warm-up routine.
Now it's your turn ... what routines have you found helpful? Any stories of races or workouts where you didn't get your warm-up in or the race was delayed and messed up your timing?