The Importance Of Warming Up

How many times have you shown up late to a group workout, and simply started your swim, bike or run without properly warming up? It's easy to skip a warm-up when we're pressed for time, but Hendrik de Villiers of Embark North in Cape Town - and #Road2ITU coach - explains why it is such a vital component of your training and racing.

Warming up – is it necessary? Well, the answer to this is a definite and resounding YES!

The key benefits of warming up:

  • Better performance
  • Injury prevention
  • Mental preparation


In addition to a higher oxygen uptake, better performance and decreased lactic acid build-up, warming up also ensures a slightly higher heart rate when you start your training. That being said, it’s important to remember that your warm-up should be an easy and low-intensity exercise, else you will build up lactic acid, which eliminates the benefits of warming up. 

Warming up for a long distance race:

It is a known fact that many people don’t warm up ahead of a long distance / endurance event, as they want to reserve their energy for the duration of the race.  This can be done, but then you need to go easy at the start, and not be overcome by race hype, that spurt of start line adrenaline or your own competitive streak.

However, in an ITU event, I recommend a good warm-up beforehand, as you will be racing a fairly short distance. 

Warming up for a triathlon:

Fact: The water will be cold on Race Day. It definitely helps to get the skin used to the cold water on your face, hands and other body parts not covered by your wetsuit. 

Cold water can be quite a shock to the system, which affects your breathing. So take 5 – 10 minutes to acclimatise before you swim. 

Given that you need to check in your bike long before your race, it is not always possible  / practical to warm up on your bike. If time and the race village environment allows, try to fit in a short run, short bike and a short swim just before you race. A reverse triathlon, if you will. 

If you’re lucky, you may live or park close enough to the start to cycle there. Do that if you can. Then, once you’ve checked in your bike, go for a quick run and a swim if you’re allowed to. 

If you cannot get on your bike to warm up, don’t worry. A quick swim and run will do the trick. You may want to take it moderately easy on the bike for the first few minutes of your cycle, considering that you’ve just come out of the water. 

Just don’t overdo it. Overdoing it and getting a lactic acid build-up from going out too fast on the bike leg may lead to heavy legs and a race in the hurt box. 

If you simply want to do the race to enjoy the experience – i.e. not go too fast – a warm-up may not be needed (but it’s still beneficial). However, if you’re gunning for a PB or trying to beat your mates, a warm-up is definitely recommended.

Spending 15 – 20 minutes on warming up should set you up for a cracking race!

Stretching as warming up:

Exercise caution when stretching as part of your warm-up. Stretching can improve your range of motion, but could also lead to injuries when you over-stretch. It is in fact the top pre-race injury. It is best to try and improve your range of motion during training and leading up to an event, and not on the morning of the event.

If you feel you need to stretch, rather end your warm-up session with a stretch, when your muscles are lightly warmed up.

Remember to always chat to your coach if you are unsure of any aspect of your training. They are there to help you make the best of your training and race experience.

Good luck!

Hendrik de Villiers