Dear Coach: What’s the Best Way to Warm Up Before a Race Effort?

With some races slowly starting to return, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with pre-race warm-ups.

Photo: Joern Pollex/Getty Images for Ironman

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As we start seeing some races return (and virtual triathlons continue to be a fun way to compete), it’s easy to get excited—but there are still key details you need to remember in the lead-up to an event. Your warm-up for triathlon is hugely important if you wish to fulfil your potential on race day. Your warm-up should be something that you practice regularly in training so it is learned and routine; there are no surprises on race day morning when nerves and adrenaline can easily derail the most simple of things. 

With triathletes taking on a variety of different races at the moment (not just swim, bike, run) we take a look at a couple of different warm-up options, as well as a way to approach a mental warm-up, which is just as important as your physical warm-up.

Warm-up for Triathlon Racing

1. Jog 3-5 min. very easy;
3 x 10 sec. controlled pick-ups with 50 sec. rest after each;
2 x 1 min. build to race effort with 30 sec. walk between;
3 min. jog. 

2. Finish setting up your bike/kit in transition; go to the bathroom one final time before putting on your wetsuit. Get your wetsuit on and get organized for the start. 

3. Do your dryland swim warm-up with swim cords (video demo here)—but only include this if it’s something you’ve done regularly in training. Do not do for the first time on race morning!

4. If possible, get in the water for your in-water warm-up (note: this is not always possible at all races). Your in-water warm-up should include at least: five minutes easy swimming; 10 stroke pick-ups with easy swimming between each pick-up; swim easy for a few more minutes and then line up on the start line, leaving yourself enough time to position yourself well, settle and focus. 

5. If it’s a hot race only do the swim cords and a light swim (if allowed) as your warm-up for the triathlon. Stay cool and avoid getting too hot before the start. If the water is extremely cold, then avoid an in-water warm-up, but do get your face wet and get used to the cold water by splashing it on you before getting in.

Warm-up for Time Trial Bike Racing

15 min. easy riding
3 x 2 min. build to 8/10 RPE with 3 mins. recovery between each interval.
5 min. at 8-8.5/10 RPE
10 min. easy
2 x 10 sec. simulated starts
Report to the line 10 minutes before you are scheduled to ride. Take on some fuel (gel, fluid, etc.)
Get ready to rock and roll!

Mental State Warm-Up: A Timeline to Being in Your Best Headspace When the Gun Goes

60 min. before start: stay relaxed and calm
45 min. before start: stay meditative and focused
30 min. before start: stay meditative; begin visualizing process for start of race (e.g. swim start, swim stroke)
20 min. before start: stay focused on your first tasks in the race; stay relaxed (as best you can!)
15 min. before start: It’s time to start getting excited! Get in the “zone”
5 min. before start: stay relaxed and confident—remind yourself how ready you are!

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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