The Art of the Warm Up
Four years ago a friend of mine and I were pulling up to the Gate River 15K in Jacksonville, Florida (fun race for what it’s worth). While we were looking for a parking spot, my buddy pointed out that a dude with a walkman and basketball shoes was warming up at the same pace as the Kenyans. It was a clear picture of how much spread there was/is from an elite runner’s warm up pace to their race pace.
I see the same thing day after day at Masters swim practice. Everyone is hanging on for dear life through the warm up set only to be left behind on the main set. There might be a bigger issue here (folks swimming in one lane too fast), but that can be saved for another time.
Along the same lines as the Kenyan runners, I have swum in a lane next to Monica Byrn from time to time over the last four to five years. It is always relaxing to see how casually one of the sport’s fastest swimmers will warm up. She takes her time and waits until the main set to drop everyone.
I have no idea how many books have been written about sports, but nearly every one I have ever picked up has a section on warming up, and each book essentially says much of the same thing. I have books by Daniels, Friel, Byrn, McGee, Salo, Colwin, etc. sitting in front of me and all of them can tell you the physiological reasons for warming up. They will certainly do it much better than I can, so seek those authors out if you need to know the science behind a good warm up. I can, however, definitively say that all these authors advocate the use of good warm up.
There are a few rules associated with warming up (according to me):
All of the above information can be applied to warming up for a race or a workout. The rules do not change. However, a triathlon race can be a little tricky since we need to warm up for three sports.
Generally speaking, the shorter the event, the more crucial a good warm up in all three sports becomes. For longer triathlon events (3.75+ hours), the need for a warm up changes a bit because the need to conserve energy comes into play, as does the reasoning behind warming up for a discipline (for example, running) that will not occur for hours.
Below you will find examples of how I approach warm ups for races of varying distances.
Typical warm up for a sprint or olympic distance triathlon:
I should note, some people prefer to run, bike, swim in that order for the warm up. That is perfectly okay. I simply find the logistics of this order to work better on race morning.
Typical warm up for a half ironman and ironman triathlon:
I do not have a bike warm up listed above, because more and more races of the longer distance do not allow you to take your bike out of the transition area. Also, the easy jogging has more to do with getting my body going (in general) and calming me down before the swim warm up begins. Since the race is usually very early in the morning, I need something that simply wakes me up and tells me its go time.
All of the above resulted from trial and error on my part. Take the time in your training to understand what components of a warm up result in your best training sessions. You will find the same to be true on race day.