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How to Warm Up in Track & Field

Warming up is one of the most important components to a successful track & field season. It will help you focus on your event and will aid you in staying loose, preventing injury and getting your body ready to practice or compete.

Think about it like this:you wouldn’t start driving your car 60 mph on a cold day without letting the car warm up, would you? Doing so could damage the engine, and prevent it from running properly. The same goes for your body.

The Benefits of Warming Up

While your body may function without doing a warm up, you will not reach your full potential. A warm-up gets your blood pumping so your muscles will be well supplied with oxygen. This will increase your heart rate and body temperature and allow your muscles to be more flexible. It will also protect your heart. Instead of shocking it into an intense exercise, your heart rate will increase gradually, minimizing the impact of the stress it is about to go through.

The will to won means nothing without the will to prepare.

Juma Ikangaa
World-Class Marathon Runner

Most of all, it will benefit you psychologically. You will feel prepared and ready when you step into the throwing circle, or onto the runway or the starting line.

Give Yourself Enough Time

Timing can be everything. If you start too early, you’ll lose the benefits of the warm up. If you start too late, you’ll be rushed and hurried. You should only be thinking about your event, not how stressed you feel.

Give yourself enough time to warm-up. Coaches always set aside time at the beginning of practice to get drills in. At a meet, however, you will have to figure it out on your own. If your event is scheduled at a certain time, get to the meet at least 90 minutes beforehand. If it’s a rolling start, plan your warm-up to be about 30 to 45 minutes before the start.

For a field event, it’s harder to time a warm-up, because it depends on which flight you are in. Some coaches recommend to start loosening up at least two flights before you take your warm-up throws or jumps.

Hot Tip: Stay Covered

Keep your warm-up sweats on as long as you can. This is especially important when the weather is colder. This will keep your muscles warm. Obviously, when it is hot you won’t wear your sweats and jacket. But try to wear at least a t-shirt and extra shorts on. You can usually take them off at the starting line or right before you step into the circle or onto the runway.

The amount of time put into a warm-up depends on the athlete. Weather, age, athletic level and event are factors that can play a part in how many drills you do. Some coaches recommend putting in at least 20 to 30 minutes. You are warmed up if you are sweating and your heart rate is up. When it’s colder or you are older, give yourself more time, since it will take longer to get your muscles warm. You want to finish all your drills and dynamic stretching ten minutes or so before your start time. Don’t start too early, because your muscles will get cold.

Ease into it

Some athletes begin the warm up with a jog around the track. This will ease your body into the drills and stretches you are about to do. As you jog, shake out your arms and get your muscles to relax.

Think Fast, Strong, Powerful

When you are doing your drills, think about how it is going to apply to your event. If you are doing A-skips, think about how that quick reaction off the ground will apply to a quick turnover in the sprint. If you are going on a long warm-up run, think about how you’re going to remember to breathe and relax your arms during the 5,000-meter. If you are a jumper and you are practicing your run-throughs, concentrate on hitting your mark. For throwers, concentrate on your technique during your practice throws.

The Dynamic Warm-Up

Dynamic warm-up stretching is the most effective way to get your heart rate pumping and your body ready. It is better than static stretching, because it allows your body to warm-up by using drills versus stretching out cold muscles.

The order, types and number of warm-up drills vary with each athlete and event. But here are some suggestions:

  • High Knees: The aim of this drill is to be light on your feet. You will bring each knee up to a 90-degree angle as quickly as you can. It can be done for 10 to 30 meters.
  • A-Skips: This drill is great for sprint mechanics and to prime your system to be explosive. As one leg skips, the other leg will bring the knee up to a 90-degree angle with the foot dorsiflexed. You will bring that bent leg down quickly and drive with the ball of your foot to the ground. Your upper body is straight and your arms move in a running motion.
  • Arms and Shoulders: Warm up by walking on a straight line while rotating your arms and in a circular motion forward and then backward. You can also move your arms straight up and down and out to the sides.

Event-Specific Warm-Up Drills

While dynamic warm-ups will work for most athletes, there are certain things you will do in your warm-up that are specific to your event.

  • Sprinters: Do a few short sprints to focus in on your start.
  • Mid-distance runners: Do strides that help you concentrate on your breathing or relaxation of your shoulders.
  • Hurdler: Do drills to practice the action of running through the hurdle.
  • Throwers: Get in some warm-up throws from the ring.
  • Jumpers and pole vaulters: Do a few run-throughs to make sure you are hitting your mark.

Stay Loose, Get Ready

After you have done your drills, put on your competition shoes and stay warm. This should be about 10 minutes before you head to your event area. Take this time to stay relaxed. Jog a bit or shake out your legs. You can also use this time to visualize what you are about to do. Think positively about the goal you have set for this meet. Is it to finish in the top five? Or is to set a personal best? Whatever you have in mind, visualize your body doing it. Then approach the starting line, throwing ring or run up relaxed and ready to go!

With any athletic activity, it's a good idea to warm up, but this is especially true in track and field. This guide details the right way to warm up.
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