It's important for injury prevention to put pre-race warm-up drills to work—especially in the wintertime.

Winter Race Warm-Up

For time-crunched runners, practicing proper warm-up drills is often the first thing to go. It’s seen as trivial when compared to the deadlines, duties and activities of life. So, we get up, dash out the door and log a few miles. We figure that our muscles will warm up as we go.

What’s true for daily runs is true for racing as well—especially in the winter. Frigid and dark race mornings aren’t conducive to a long warm-up. We’d much rather be bundled in layers—layers we shed only once the race is about to start.

Comfortable or not, a pre-race warm-up is crucial, particularly this time of year. It allows your muscles to loosen up, which will improve your performance and help guard against injuries that occur when tight muscles are stretched too quickly in the cold.

A good warm-up should start with a few easy miles of jogging 30 to 45 minutes before the race. The distance you run depends on your fitness level and the length of the race you’re running. If you run regularly and are racing a 5K, I recommend a 15-minute pre-race jog. You don’t need to go fast, but you should get your blood pumping enough to start sweating beneath your layers.

Once you’ve completed your jog, try to find somewhere indoors to do quick drills. While you may be hot in your layers of clothing, it’s important to leave most of them on. Taking too many layers off too quickly will negate a lot of the benefits you reap from your pre-race jog, as it only takes a few minutes for your muscles to cool and stiffen.

Start your drills with dynamic stretching (stretching while moving). Do a brief stretch, then walk a few steps before repeating it. As you stretch, pay special attention to your quads, hamstrings and calves. These muscles are particularly injury-prone when not properly warmed up.

By this point, you’re likely within 10 minutes of the race, which means it’s time to do a few fast drills to keep warm and prepare your body for the race start. It’s best to get yourself acclimated to the outside temperature, so I recommend doing these drills near the start line.

My go-to pre-race drills are high knees, skips, jumps and side shuffles. Once you’ve done about five minutes of these more strenuous exercises, run a few strides (quick sprints) for 15 to 30 seconds.

At the last possible second, strip off your extra layers and listen for the starting gun. While many of your competitors are shivering beside you and trying to wake their sleepy muscles, you’ll be warm and ready to go.