The myths of pre-race warmups
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
The last 3 months culminating with the 70.3 World Champs in Nice, had me thinking how many athletes are hurting their races with their perceived correct warm up! This is not just on race morning, but also in the lead up days. To see so many age groupers pounding the pavement, running before the start of their race is the prompt to pass on my thoughts in this area.
If you feel there is some common sense to my thoughts, it may indeed help you get more out of your race performance. So first let's get into why do we do a warm up at all? The dictionary explains it as 'the act or preparation to have a positive readiness for an event'. This is where we must listen, take away all other considerations and get back to the basics. To consider what will prepare us best for our race.
Most athletes think in terms of 'I must prepare for all three' before the race, as we are triathletes. In our personal squads, the ability to perform on race day is unquestioned. In fact one of the names that has been given to me, which I find very complimentary, is 'The Postman'. While some times we can't always deliver, our athletes seem to be ready for doing it at the best time, on race day.
I believe one of our advantages is we use methods that are not conventional in the crucial times just before a triathlon race. My first rule is we take care of motor skills recruitment before race day. The day before the race we do all three disciplines. We are not taking a day of nothing on that day. We do have a specific routine.
We run in morning. We bike and then rack it in transition. And the last thing of the day, we swim. We don't swim on the course. Absolutely not. We go to a pool. If there is not a pool available, we instruct our athletes to keep a small stretch cord in their luggage, so they can actually swim in hotel pools as short of 8 to 10 meters.
So rule one - if there is no pool you can use before race day, you should book a hotel that has a small indoor pool. This allows the luxury of doing a swim as the last thing of the pre race day. It has many benefits, not the least is it can refresh you after a busy day. If you are not feeling great, we can 'swim that feeling out'.
No, it doesn't matter if you are a poor swimmer, it will help you greatly. Our athletes don't swim a lot, if everything is going well - the pros go about 2000m maximum. But if they are not feeling ok, they keep swimming easy until they do! And while I don't want to scare you, I have had some swim up to 6km if they felt bad. Only to win a national sprint championship the next day!
It's that important. This pre-race day allows us to swim as the main warm up prior to the race. To run and less so bike before, can have a devastating effect on your swim. Using both leg dominated disciplines to warm up for triathlon is not ideal. The reason is we have to swim first, predominantly with arms and less kick. At Trisutto we believe that the only warm up that has benefits, is a warm up that is swim orientated.
Now before you tell me, yes we warm up in the water on race morning, I believe that is also a mistake. In my mind, this is not a warm up at all. Why? We are called out of the water and stand there, for who knows how long. Remember, a warm up is to warm the muscles to a performance level. That's it. Nothing else matters. So using energy and glycogen stores that can't be replaced is again a negative rather than a positive.
Before, we all get our speed suits in a knot, who has watched any major swim meet? Olympics anyone? Swimmers do not get near the water within at least 1 to 2 hours before their event. The water is cleared from their warmup and then they wait to get marshaled for at least 45 min before their race. That's just a fact! So, does that time interfere with their race? Does it affect their feel of the water? No!
However, they are keeping their body and muscles warm with copious amounts of clothing, and before going out to race they get their blood flowing with light out-of-the water exercise. Some also take a very hot shower if facilities exist.
However, my point is they are ready to swim without touching the water, or swimming a stroke, for 1 to 2, and sometimes 3 hours. This is a fact. So at Trisutto we have done our motor neuron recruitment, and replenished our glycogen levels hours before the race start. We turn up ready to go, not jump into water and then be cold standing around waiting for the start.
If it is very hot, we may jump in to cool off a little, but the point is when we are going to perform for 1, 2, 8 or 13 hours we haven't wasted our energy stores with warming up procedures that could be called 'slowing us up' procedures - that I do see at every race.
Believe me, a 750, 1500, 1900, or 3800 meter swim will be more than enough to warm you up for the crucial bike and run legs. Your swim will be sharper by using a swim preparation warm up rather than a triathlon one.
Just the way I see it