Tips for Warming up for a Triathlon

August 8th, 2019 by JoAnn Cranson

By Brian Reynolds

Have you ever wondered how to warm up for a triathlon race?  I don’t know about you but when I first got into triathlons this is something I wondered about.  I come from a running background and warming up for a race was pretty straight forward. My warm up was usually a 10 to 15 minute run followed by some form drills (i.e., high knees or butt kicks) and pick ups (i.e., strides or fartleks).  However for a triathlon there are 3 sports. Do you run, bike, and swim for 10-15 min for each discipline? What order should you do the warm up? Should I bike first or should I run first?  I’ll share with you what warm up routines have worked for me.

One item to note is that no matter the triathlon distance you should do some type of warm up.  How you warm up will greatly depend on the event’s distance and weather conditions. In general the shorter the race distance the longer the warm up.  Thus the longer the race distance the shorter the warm up. Short distance races such as a sprint triathlon are very high intensity (aka your heart rate is going to be really high!).  Your body needs to be warmed up so you can go full throttle at the start. A proper warm up will elevate your heart rate and will dilate your veins to allow more blood flow (oxygen) to the working muscles.  Long distance races such as the Ironman distance is a low-moderate intensity which doesn’t require a long warm up to get your body ready to race comfortably at this intensity. Your working muscles will not require as much oxygen at a low-moderate intensity so you can get by with very little warm up.

Weather conditions will play a big role during your warm up.  If it’s cold outside it’s important to wear warm clothes to keep the muscles warm and it may be necessary to do a longer warm up.  If it’s hot outside it’s ok to warm up in just your racing outfit to help stay cool. It may be necessary to shorten the warm up if it’s really hot to help prevent your body from overheating.

Below are general guidelines on warming up for the different triathlon distances.

Sprint:

  1. 10 – 15 min run.  Include some race efforts last 5 mins.  After your run do some dynamic stretching.

  2. Running form drills and pick-ups which are faster than race pace.

  3. 10 – 15 min swim.  Second half of swim should include several strong efforts at race pace or faster.  Note: If you’re not able to get in the water before the race then warm up with stretch cords.

Olympic:

  1. 10 – 15 min run.  Include some race efforts last 5 mins.  After run do some dynamic stretching.

  2. Optional: Do some run form drills and pick-ups which are faster than race pace.

  3. 10 – 15 min swim.  Second half of swim should include several strong efforts at race pace or faster.  Note: If you’re not able to get in the water before the race then warm up with stretch cords.

Half Iron Distance:

  1. Optional: 5 min easy run

  2. 5 – 15 min swim.  Second half of swim should include several strong efforts at race pace or faster.  Note: If you’re not able to get in the water before the race then warm up with stretch cords.

Full Iron Distance:

  1. 5 – 10 min easy swim with a few strong efforts towards the end.  Note: If you’re not able to get in the water before the race then warm up with stretch cords.

You’ll notice that there is no bike warm up because it’s hard to get a ride in before the race.  In addition it’s dark early morning which is not safe to ride the bike around unless you have a stationary trainer.  Besides the run will help warm up your biking legs so don’t stress out by needing to get a ride in.

Another important thing to note is to make sure you do the swim warm up last.  The race starts with the swim so you want your arms warmed up shortly before the race.  Ideally you want to finish the swim warm up 5 – 10 mins before the race. Sometimes this is not possible so it’s ok if you need to finish your warm up early.

If you do not have to time to get in a complete warm up then skip or shorten the run.  At least do some dynamic stretches and form drills to wake up the legs. In my opinion the highest priority is the swim during the warm up because you want to be comfortable and loose in the water before the race.  This is beneficial if you are on the fence of wearing a thermal cap or not. You can at least try it out in the water during your warm up.

I hope these warm up tips help!



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