Sage Advice: The Warm-Up

My athlete Donnie has found his niche in mud runs, which let him use his whole-body strength from years of work with an elite trainer and his somewhat newfound running endurance and growing speed. After his most recent race, he asked this good question:

One thing I’m wondering about is proper amount of warmup for a race like this as well as *when* it needs to happen.  Part of the problem of these races is the large amount of people per wave on relatively tight courses means you *have* to get near the front of the start line.  That generally means getting in the start area 15–20 minutes before the start of the race.  So I’m still trying to learn what will work best for me in terms of not using up too much energy before the start versus getting myself ready.  I’m not sure how to best know that. It’s just hard to do enough to not burn much energy but still be warm and limber 20 minutes later, too.

There’s not much academic research on the right warmup protocol. Instead, we have to go on individual response, using trial and error during workouts and lower-priority races to see what works. The shorter the race, the more important the warm-up becomes. For a short, hard, full-body workout like a mud run, I’d say to do a 10- to 20-minute run, starting easy and speeding up. (This can be a great time to preview the finish of the race course, so you’ll know when to kick.) At the end, include 4 x 20-second accelerations to race pace, with a minute or two between them. Some light push-ups against a wall, car, or tree can help warm up the muscles, too. And a dynamic yoga sequence like some sun salutations or the arrow lunge I show at YogaVibes and will describe in Active Yogi next week can help get all the muscles firing right.

There remains the question of how to be in place at the right time. I’d do the warmup described above, then seed myself. While you wait, you can still march in place every minute or two, swing your arms, and focus your breathing. You might look weird, but you’ll be ready to start harder off the line.

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