Warm Up For Track and Field Athletes

The warm up is designed to elevate body temperature, improve blood flow to the muscles, increase body awareness, stimulate the nervous system, create a greater range of motion in the muscles needed for the training session and decrease the risk of injury. The nervous and musculoskeletal systems that generate force are activated more rapidly to generate force with a proper warm up protocol.

Besides preparing the body for the upcoming workout, the warm up can improve the athletic qualities needed in track and field, such as strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and coordination. 

Event specific exercises should be included in the warm up routine to reinforce the skills needed in a particular event area. Each event group will have different specific warm up exercises to prepare for the training session.

Warm Up Progression

The warm up routine will start with total body movements and progress to event specific activities. The initial exercises in the warm up are controlled low intensity movements focusing on flexibility and proper mechanics with short rest periods. As the warm up progresses, higher intensity exercises with more dynamic movements increase the body’s range of motion and stimulate the nervous system in preparation for the training session. Dynamic sprint drills with varying intensity and motion will increase body awareness and improve the physical qualities needed for training. The final phase of the warm up will include event specific exercises that prepare the event for the training session. 

Track and Field Warm Up

The most common general warm up for track and field athletes includes an active warm up followed by more dynamic exercises. Besides running type movements, jumps, medicine ball throws, jump/throw combinations, hurdle mobility, calisthenics, and bodyweight exercises can be included in the warm up routine.

In track and field, speed and power athletes will include more explosive exercises near the end of the warm up routine that stimulates the nervous system for activity or exercises that are event specific.

Distance runners often use active warm-up exercises before or after an easy run to develop strength, speed, coordination, and flexibility. Studies have shown that endurance athletes can exercise longer  and at a higher intensity with a proper warm up (Jones, Wilkerson, Burnley & Koppo, 2003).

Active Warm Up

Athletes start with active flexibility movements and low intensity dynamic exercises at a slow rate of speed focusing on good mechanics. Approximately 5-10 exercises at 20-40 meters each with little to no rest between movements are completed during the active phase of the warm up.

Sample Active Exercises

  • Backward lunges
  • Forward lunges
  • Inchworm
  • Walking hamstring stretch
  • Walking quad stretch
  • Forward skip with arm circles

Dynamic Warm Up

After the active flexibility exercises are completed, the warm up will increase in intensity with more dynamic movements. The dynamic phase of the warm up will consist of 5-10 exercises at 20-40 meters, each with varying rest periods from 30 seconds to two minutes.

Sample Dynamic Warm Up Exercises

  • Dynamic straight leg high kick
  • Straight leg bounding
  • Forward skipping for height
  • Lateral shuffle
  • Dynamic A skip
  • Fast leg single leg

Other Common General Warm Up Elements

  • Jumping
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Jump/throw combinations
  • Hurdle mobility
  • Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises

Jumping

  • Split jumps with alternating legs
  • Single leg hops into bounding
  • Three forward jumps into the pit

Medicine Ball Throw

  • Squat to chest pass
  • Forward throw for height
  • Overhead shot put throw

Jump/Throw Combinations

  • Two forward jumps to forward throw for distance
  • Forward jump to chest pass for height
  • Backward jump to overhead shot put toss

Hurdle Mobility

  • Walkovers
  • Step over and turn
  • Up and under

Calisthenics and Bodyweight Exercises

  • Mountain climbers
  • Push ups
  • Side planks

Event Specific Warm Up

The final phase of the warm up will include event specific preparation activities. Coaches can add exercises that improve specific abilities by increasing the range of motion for precise movement patterns and preparing the neural system for advanced skills. The specific warm up exercises include more complex event related skills and technical elements of the sport to improve skill acquisition during the main training segment of the session. The specific warm up is a bridge from the general warm up routine to the actual training session.

Specific Running Warm Up (Max Velocity Drills)

  • 2x40m Max velocity A skips
  • 2x40m Max velocity step over run to ankle
  • 2x40m Max velocity step over run to calf
  • 2x40m Max velocity step over run to knee
  • 5x Sprint (10 meters) easy jog (30 meters) sprint (10 meters)

Specific Long Jump Warm Up (Max Velocity Drills)

  • 2x40m Acceleration runs (same rhythm as the approach)
  • 2x40m Jog 10 meters into bounding for 30 meters
  • 2x40m Jog 10 meters into skipping for height for 30 meters
  • 2x40m Jog into final two steps and takeoff repeats

Specific Discus Throw Warm Up (with heavy medicine ball)

  • Easy wind up to 270 discus stand throw x5 each way
  • 2x5 half turns without throwing
  • (Side facing) Shuffle-shuffle into half turn discus throw x5
  • Walking straight line turns -3/4 to finish repeats x10

Shot Put Specific Warm Up (with heavy shot put)

  • Kneeling shot put throw x5 each way
  • Standing shot put throw 2x5 each way
  • Walking glide or walking 3/4 throw x5
  • (Side facing) Shuffle-shuffle into shot put stand throw x10

Early Season Warm Up

Warm up design is important as training design. Each warm up routine should have a theme and purpose to help the athletes prepare for the upcoming training session. Exercises are performed at a low intensity focusing on proper technical execution with an emphasis on acceleration running mechanics. The warm up during the early part of the season will include simple technical movements for the track and field events to improve specific strength and specific endurance.

Early Season Warm Up Guidelines
Total Warm Up Time: 8-10 minutes
Total Meters: 1,000-1,200 meters of general warm up exercises
Intensity - Volume: Low to medium intensity - build up to high volume

Active Exercises: 10-12 exercises at 30-40 meters with 15-30 second recovery
Dynamic Exercises: 8-10 exercises at 20-30 meters 30-60 second recovery
Simple Event Specific Exercises: 3-4 exercises x5-10 repetitions each

Late Season Warm Up

More speed and strength elements are added later in the season; the fitness level of the athletes are improved from the workload during the early season training.

An increased focus on dynamic exercises are included in the warm up. The intensity of the dynamic movements are increased as the volume is either slightly reduced or maintained. During the specific warm up, more complex technical warm up exercises are performed focusing on event specific strength and event specific speed.

In the sprints, acceleration mechanics and maximum velocity training exercises are used to improve running technique.

Late Season Warm Up Guidelines
Total Warm Up Time: 12-20 minutes
Total Meters: 800 to 1,000 meters of general warm up exercises
Intensity - Volume: Medium intensity - medium to high volume

Active Exercises: 6-10 exercises at 20-30 meters with 5-15 second recovery
Dynamic Exercises: 8-12 exercises at 30-40 meters with 45-60 second recovery
Complex Event Specific Exercises: 2-3 exercises x5-10 repetitions each

 Competition Warm Up

Athletes should use the same exercises for competition warm up; however since the intensity of competition is greater than training, a more intense and longer warm up is required. It is best to experiment with various warm up lengths and intensities to develop the best individual or team warm up plan.

Complex movement patterns requiring mobility, explosive power, and rhythm are added to the warm up for competition. More emphasis is placed on higher intensity exercises to enhance physiological readiness. Event specific warm up exercises should be individualized based on the needs of each athlete.

Competition Warm Up Guidelines
Total Warm Up Time: 12-30 minutes
Total Meters: 500 to 1,000 meters of general warm up exercises
Intensity - Volume: Medium to high intensity - medium volume
Active Exercises: 6-8 exercises at 20-30 meters with 10-15 second recovery
Dynamic Exercises: 8-10 exercises at 30-50 meters with 60-90 second recovery
Technique Event Specific Exercises: 2-3 exercises x5-10 repetitions each

Research on PAP Warm Up and Force

Coop studied warm up protocols, including the use of Postactivation Potentiation (PAP), found increases in muscle temperature improved the rate of force development and increased velocity in the muscle fibers. Training activities before the competition movements that include sport specific drills, strength training, and other types of warm up exercises can increase performance if fatigue does not occur. Elite sprinters have shown an increase in speed by performing strength training prior to competition. Studies on elite sprinters using high intensity squats with low repetitions (1-4) with 3-5 minute recovery between sets and 12-20 minutes of recovery before the competition movement improved speed in shorter sprint races (Coop, 2010).

PAP is described as “the phenomenon of acutely enhanced motor performance induced by preliminary performed muscular efforts at maximal or near maximal intensity” (Issurin & Thome, 2019, p. 367). PAP provides a preloaded stimulus, a recovery period followed by the execution of the primary activity.

Benefits of Proper Warm Up

The warm up will prepare the athlete for physical activity during the training session. The warm up routine will start with general exercises from lower intensity to higher intensity exercises. Mixing exercises for strength, speed, and other athletic abilities into the warm up routine will improve the overall skills needed in track and field. Specific warm up exercises are used to improve the specialized qualities needed in an event area. No matter what exercises or activities are used in the warm up, a gradual build up from lower to higher intensity movements will best prepare the athletes for the training session.

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