Three-season track athletes (Cross Country, Winter Track, Spring Track) are running 9-10 months out of the year. There are a number of considerations that are a little different than what you would deal with in a typical 1 or 2 sport athlete.
Even though coaches may think track athletes know a lot about running, many do not spend nearly enough time on a PROPER warm up. Typically, you’ll see most track athletes do a few jogging laps around the track, some static stretches or goofy jumps, and that’s it. This is absolutely the LEAST EFFECTIVE way to warm up a track and field athlete.
Static vs. Dynamic Warm Ups
In fact, a static warm up does not prepare the athlete for competition. It actually leads to decreased force output by desensitizing the nervous system. It also decreases blood flow to the muscle and may even lead to micro tears in muscle cells.
On the other hand, a dynamic warm up promotes joint mobility (which is more effective in sports performance than flexibility), increases work capacity and GPP, addresses movements specific to the task at hand for the day and increases muscle temperature.
The greatest benefit to a focused, dynamic warm up, is neuroplasticity. This refers to the brain remodeling, adapting and organizing after practicing a motor skill. In fact, the introduction of movement patterns daily can aid in skill development.
So if an athlete is going through a warm up lazily, without focus on the fundamentals of stiffness and core activation… then how do you think this athlete will perform in contest?
Instead, a dynamic warm up that mimics performance on every level, will make it that much easier for the athlete to perform.
Warm Up Principles
- Selective self myofascial release (trigger points)
- Biomechanics – warm up joints and tissue
- Muscle activation (core and glutes)
- Local muscular endurance
- Physiology – prime blood pressure, hormone levels (raise core temperature)
- Assessing and teaching technique
- Neurological – prepare muscle activation pulses, quick on/off
- Dynamic mobility
- Motor skill development (multi-directional runs)
- Rapid contraction and relaxation of muscle (the pulse)
- Stretch reflex acuity
Things to keep in mind:
- The order of your warm up should progress from:
- Slow to fast
- Basic to complex
- General to specific
- Each movement should be done with attention to detail
- Quality over intensity
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Warm ups should be athlete and task dependent
- The biggest thing to keep in mind is VOLUME. Track athletes go through a LOT of sprinting volume. As you get deeper into the track season, it may be appropriate to consider having 2 days per week dedicated solely to a “warm up” style workout. Think of it as recovery and injury prevention.
- Whatever warm up you do in practice, the volume and intensity should be about 50% on meet day
- Track athletes specifically will have multiple warm ups throughout a single meet. As a coach, it’s our job to teach them what warm up movements they should be doing throughout the day.
Sample Warm Up Set Up
Mobility – Very dependent on how the athlete is feeling, the intensity of recent workouts, etc.
Ground-based Activation – Select 5-8 movements.
Stationary Prep – I like to always include some type of Pogo movement.
Core / Lower Body Stiffness – I RARELY put a track athlete on the ground for core work. They are upright for their sport, let’s build their core that way.
Here is where focus on proper mechanics and core stiffness are KEY. This is still part of the warm up, but we refer to it as movement prep to reinforce this concept. Whatever you do during this phase of warm up, should directly relate to the skill or activity that is being demonstrated that day.
Have a plan! Create annual, micro and macro cycles. Design the plan around your focus of the day – speed/force development, strength, work capacity. And always, ALWAYS have attention to detail.
Imagine the results you will get if you take an athlete that has been wasting 10 minutes of the workout on a lazy warm up, and they now are spending 15-20 minutes with focused movement.
About the Author
Lead Master Performance Coach
Steve grew up in Hawthorne, NJ where he was a 3-sport varsity athlete (football, baseball, and wrestling). His athletic career was very successful—being named the captain of his wrestling team and receiving all-league honors for both baseball, track and wrestling.
Steve realized sports was his real passion and decided to major in Exercise Science at Northeastern University and concluded his studies with a degree in Sports Management from Centenary College. Steve is the former Director of Training for Parisi Speed School Morris Plains and Fair Lawn NJ.
He has been training athletes for 20+ years on all levels including high school, college, NFL, MLB, US Olympic, WNBA, and MLL. Steve was hired in 2011 to train the New York Jets during the NFL lockout.
Steve is currently the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone, NJ. He lives in Rockaway Township, NJ with his wife, Michelle, and their daughters Samantha, 13, and Maggie, 9