Dear Coach: How Should I Warm-Up on Race Day?

Knowing how to warm-up for your race can be a key factor in achieving peak performance.

Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images for Ironman

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A warm-up is essential for optimal performance on race day—but the distance of your race, as well as the conditions, can affect what your warm-up should consist of. Above all else, remember that a good-warm up should help prepare your body and mind for the race ahead and enable you to be ready to go when the gun goes off. It’s also always worth giving yourself a lot of time pre-race—things always take longer than you think on race morning and it’s never good to feel rushed.

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Typically speaking, the higher intensity your race, the longer your warm-up should be—and it should also involve getting your heart-rate up to race intensity just a little, so that by the time your race starts it’s not the first time you’ve gone to that level of effort. For an Olympic distance race, for example, your warm-up might look like this:

  • Jog 3-5 min. easy
  • 3 x 15m of run drills for activation
  • 2 x 60 sec. build to race effort with 2 min. easy jog recovery
  • 2-3 min. jog
  • Check your transition zone is all set up and ready
  • Shortly before swim start: arm swings and swim cords to warm up lats/chest/shoulders pre-swim.

The timing of your warm-up can vary, but it’s important to have got your body moving within the 60 to 90 minutes before your race starts. This will help get your heart-rate and breathing rate elevated, wake up your mind and nervous system, and get the adrenaline flowing! If you’re racing longer distance than Olympic, a simple 10-minute easy jog with some light mobility and activation is often enough to get your body and brain into race mode.

Remember that if you’re racing in hot conditions, you want to avoid overheating before the race starts, so keep your warm-up a little shorter than that listed above, stay out of the sun as much as possible, and stay well hydrated. Conversely, in colder conditions it’s important to stay warm before you start—avoid getting in the water until you have to, stay well wrapped up in warm clothes, and raise your core temperature with some easy running and activation/mobility work before the start.

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Don’t forget to prepare your mind as well as your body during your warm-up on race day. It’s important that both are ready to go when the gun goes. Here’s a short mental state preparation list I like to give my athletes:

60 min. pre-start: focus on being relaxed and calm
45 min. pre-start: be meditative and focused
30 min. pre-start: visualize your start and process
20 min. pre-start: stay relaxed, deep breaths if needed
15 min. pre-start: start getting excited and in the zone!
5 min. pre-start: stay relaxed and remind yourself how confident and ready you are for the race ahead. Be ready and go fast!

Marilyn Chychota is a USAT-certified coach and former pro triathlete who is now owner and head coach at Marilyn Chychota Coaching. Find her at

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