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Pre Race Warm-ups: An Essential Part of Every Runner's Routine

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When I started running almost 4 years ago one of the cardinal rules of racing my running coach taught me was, "The shorter the race, the longer the warm-up." It is something that has been ingrained in me all these years and something I still practice to this day.

He would insist that I spend a good 20 minutes warming up by doing some walking, slow jogging, short strides, and easy stretching well before my race. Of course me being me, I always had lots of questions for him, especially as to why I would spend so many minutes warming up when the race itself was so short.

In all his infinite wisdom, he told me that warm-ups are one of the most essential, yet underrated portions of racing. Since the 5K and 10K distances are run at a much faster pace than say a 1/2 marathon and marathon, doing a good warm-up allows you to hit your pace early on in your race as your muscles are warmed up and your cardio-pulmonary system is ready to go. You do not need to run all out in your warm-ups just enough to get your muscles and joints loosened up and your heart rate elevated.

But what are some of the other benefits to pre-race warm-ups?

  • It allows for your heart rate to increase over a period of time.

  • It allows for blood to be diverted from the internal organs to the muscles in the legs needed for running.

  • It allows for your body's temperature to rise.

  • It allows for the joints to warm and to loosen up.

  • It all allows you to mentally prepare to run the race.

  • And the biggest reason to warm-up is to lessen the risk for injury during the race itself.
So while many runners like to arrive at the latest time possible before the race begins, know that getting there early enough to get in a good warm-up can be the difference between an OK race and a GREAT race.


Do you warm-up prior to your race/event? How much time do you spend warming up?

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DEE107 12/16/2019
thanks Report
LOSER05 7/10/2019
Thanks Report
Absolutely great Report
Got some ligament realignment done and now can atleast run some. Great Report
Great advice. Thanks for sharing. Report
I agree with this. For a 5K, my warm up is usually around 15 minutes of stretching, pacing, and below-pace running. When I do this right, my 5K times are usually around the 26 minute mark. A friend poo-poo'd this approach -- until I beat him by over 5 minutes in a 10K for which he'd done no warm up!! Report
I just started to "workout" and haven't run any races. At home i do yoga then I follow the strenght training from this website. Before all that i do about a15 minute warm up like walk inside the house, or sometimes walk in place, and sometimes even some dancing :) then a quick stretch and i start w/ my yoga :).... next week Im going to start going to the park to walk/jog :) Report
Warming up has kept me mostly injury free for almost 30 years. The other piece is don't forget the cool down, light cardio and lots of stretching after a workout. I find my stretches are always deeper and last longer after the workout. Report
I am running my first race this weekend and didn't think about getting a big warm up in before starting. I was planning to get a warm up in, just not a lot of one. I guess I will be warming up longer than I thought now! Thanks for the advice! Report
I'm still working on short and easy races, so the length of my warm-ups doesn't vary much, but as usual, Nancy's advice makes perfect sense. Report
Great advice. I never thought about the shorter the race the longer the warm-up. It makes perfect sense. Report
Thanks for the info. I will definitely take it to heart. Report
Wow! I did not know that. Thanks Report
i try to get at least a mile in plus walking and a good stretch, i usually need 30-40 minutes, more if it is cold. Report
I do warm up before an event, but I'd never heard that a shorter event requires a bigger warm-up, but it makes sense. Report
Thanks! I am a newbie runner and plan to run a 1/2 marathon this year. I will remember your sound advice. Report
I want to start running long distances so this is very good advice. I always warm up before weight training or aerobics classes. Report
I've only run 1 5K but many longer races, so I usually warm up during the first mile! When I get brave enough to do another 5K, I will definitely remember to warm up first. I'm just too slow for that distance!! Report
Thanks for the information. It's always good to hear a refresher now and then, to remind me why I'm doing what I'm doing! Report
great blog.
i learned the hard way.... started running about 3 yrs ago. either i heard that warmups weren't important or i heard what i wanted to hear. ran about a dozen or more races including 2 marathons in 24 months. in jan 09, my last marathon, i hurt my feet, plantar fascitis. been suffering with it for about 11 months now, altho its getting better. did the physical therapy thing, cortisone shot thing, and resting thing. probably they all contributed to helping BUT in my opinion it was #1-listening to my body and acting on it and #2-WARMING UP!!! I now warm up for no less than 1 mile, be it a race, training run, fun or long run. break it into .25 mile sections... walk .25 mile, slowly jog .25 mile, then repeat. after this i stretch for a minimum of 3 minutes. the warm-up and stretching IS what i believe, the formula for less injuries.... also, we got to start listening to our bodies and stop trying to be a hero. if it hurts, SLOW DOWN or stop! Thanks for letting me share..... Report
Great article! This past weekend I did our Y's annual Jingle Jam 5(k) and before the race started they did about a 10 minute warm up to Christmas music. Was kind of like a quick aerobic class! It was fun and I thought a bit much but, once we headed outside for the run to start, the cold weather didn't even bother me and, I was warmed up enough that I reached my goal of NO WALKING!!! This was my 3rd 5(k) and the first one I did without any walking. I think the 10 mintues of warming up really helped! Report
Great advice. I'm guilty of neglecting warming up before runs (not just for racing but my long runs on the weekends). In fact, I do a few stretches and just get going :( I'll try to start dedicating 5 minutes to a quick jog. Report
great advice Report
not a runner, but thanks Report
My running group always walks about 1/2 mile before we do our runs. In the classes I teach (Females in Training) I ask them to walk or elliptical, anything to warm up before class, or we spend time warming up (but most of them go ahead and walk so we can jump right into class). Great article Nancy! Report
I think warming up before ANY structured activity is the best bet!
I warm up on the bike for at least 15 minutes before the start of boot camp or any of my classes. If I don't loosen up the old knees, I end up hurting and then under-achieving! Report
I haven't been very good about warm ups before races. I just did a Turkey Trot and saw a guy who had brought a jump rope to use before the race. I think it is a great idea. It's easily portable to all races. I'm going to load one into my car. Report
I have not yet run a race, but I do notice that when I am doing longer runs that I always run better after I have been doing it for 20 minutes or so. Great article because I am hoping to do a race sometime in the spring so I will need to keep in mind the importance of the warmup. Report
Thanks for the tips. I'm just considering running and that information is important to me. Report
I warm up by walking for at least 5 minutes before all of my runs. I have ran 3 5ks, and I will walk around the start for 10+ minutes, plus did some jumping jacks to get myself warmed up! It also helped get me excited for the race and work out some nervous tension!

During my 2nd 5k, however, the race started early and I didn't get much of a chance to warm up. The last five minutes of that race were absolutely emotionally and physically wrenching (but I did finish and took 2 minutes off my time anyway!). Report
Great tips! I just ran a disappointing 5K last week.. perhaps my miniscule warm-up was a big reason why. I am running another on December 19th and I plan on a much more extensive warm-up this time. Thank you. Report
Wht a timely blog! I run a 5 k in exactly 2 hours so I had better get going so I can get my warmup done!!!!! Baby, its cold outside!!! Report
Thanks didn't know all the reasons why warming up was so important. Report
I think that when I first started running 5Ks, I was so nervous about the idea of actually running 3 miles that I didn't want to job ANOTHER 1/2 mile as a warmup. Now that I can run further, I do know that warming up is a good idea, but don't always do as much as I probably should. A great follow up might be a description of what a good pre-race warm up looks like -- specific stretches, how far to jog, etc.... Report
One of my goals is to start running and work up to running races. This was so informative because I hadn't thought of warm up in that way. Thanks Report
Great article! I knew this, but really never thought about the reasons. Thanks for putting it so well. Report
Great article! Thanks, Nancy... I will definitely heed your advice! Report
I have had a dilema lately Nancy, when I first started doing races at he beginning of the year, I would come to a race and wouldn't know anybody and it was easy to warm up - run about 1/2 mile and stretch. but something happened to me. I became aquainted with some of the best buddies and the races turned into more of a social event and everybody would stand around and talk. I have found that warming up is very important, with some light stretching.

Darn those spark buddies they get in my way to warm up, but I am so thankful for them and the friendships I have made. I guess I need to be bolder and say lets go warm up. thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for the tip. I'm running my second 5K tomorrow and it's going to be cold here. I'm sure warming up will help me. Report
I was always under the impression (silly, i know) that i didn't want to ware myself out before the race, so i dont warm up more than just bouncing on my toes and running lightly in place. BUT, if it would actually improve my time... maybe i'll give it a shot! Report
The lack of proper warm up could explain why my 5k this morning my 2nd mile was slower than the first and third miles. I didn't have engough time to warm up properly and it was about to snow as well so the air temp was colder than it has been the last few days. Report
I only warm up for races 10K and shorter. Report
I always warm up before a race. I usually spend at least 20 mins., which warms up my body, as well as my mind. It helps to push aside any nervousness that I'm experiencing before the race. Great info, as always, Nancy! Report
I don't race but I do walk at a faster pace than normal. I do a 2 min. warm up and 1 min. cool down to sit down for 2 or 3 min. then warm up a min. then cool off 2 min. when I'm finished. Report
for me, no warm up means injury. Report
I'm just starting to run again-thanks for the tips on warming up! Report
Thanks for sharing your insights and experience. Getting ready for my first marathon in the Spring. Report
The universe must be trying to tell me that I need to pay attention to warm ups! This is the third article I've read about it recently - just coincidence? I am just getting back into running and am doing to C25K program, which always begins with a walking warm-up, so I hope to carry this habit with me when I progress to races! Report