By Dr. Jack Daniels

The term “warm-up” is misleading because warming up the muscles is only part of the process. In fact, “prerace preparation” might better describe what a runner goes through during the 30 to 60 minutes before a race starts. Whatever you call it, this is a time to prepare yourself physically and mentally for the task ahead.

Just as you experiment with different types of training, you should try out different prerace warm-ups. One approach is to think about some good, quality training sessions you’ve had and how you felt at different stages of those workouts. Recall a workout that involved repeating 800s, 1ks or 1200s, with a designated recovery between each. How did you feel during the various repeated runs? Was the first one the easiest? The second or third? Sometimes it’s even the last one that feels best (probably because it’s the last one).

In a series of repeated runs, you’ll often find a second or third run to be more comfortable than the first or the first couple. Think about this. If this applies to you, then consider this when warming up for a race. In other words, don’t be afraid to put in some pretty solid running not too long before the start of a competitive effort if you find that works for you.

Many of the successful distance runners I’ve coached end their warm-up with an 800m or 1000m run at roughly Threshold pace. Others prefer a couple of 200m or 400m repeats at roughly Interval pace with 2-minutes recovery between them. In either case, this tune-up works quite well if the somewhat demanding part of the warm-up ended 30 minutes before race time and the race went very well. This is good to remember in the event a race doesn’t start on time or as scheduled.

Trying a demanding, prolonged run as part of a prerace warm-up often takes a little courage, but don’t wait until your most important race of the year or season to try it out. Give it fair trial in some less important races or before Quality Sessions. If it’s successful, use it with confidence when it really counts.

The same principle of trying a particular pre-race warm-up applies to every type of warm-up. Always practice a new method in training and in races of lesser important so that you’ll know what works best for you.

Many coaches like to have the whole team warm up at the same time and the same pace; this may look nice and encourage cohesiveness, but it might not be the best for the individuals on the team. In general, the same principles apply to warming up as to racing and training. If you’re a coach, accommodate individual differences, and, to encourage team spirit, spend some time explaining the reasons why different strategies work best for different people.

Up next: Warm-ups To Try (coming soon…)

Dr. Jack Daniels is a world renown exercise scientist and author of the popular coaching book Daniels’ Running Formula.