How Important is a Warm Up For a Racewalker?
By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
You've heard that you should warm-up before exercise, but they can't be talking about you if your exercise is walking. Or can they? Walking seems so gentle; do you really need a warm-up before you exercise walk or racewalk?
If you are going to do "Disney World" strolling, a warm-up is probably not necessary. However, if you are going to walk or racewalk in your target heart rate zone (60-90% of maximum heart rate), it means that you want your walk to be aerobic exercise. As such, a warm-up can help your performance and may help to prevent injuries.
A proper warm-up positively affects your respiratory, metabolic, musculoskeletal, neurological, and circulatory systems. Part of the benefit is related to an elevated body temperature which leads to improved muscle contraction.
The benefits are not solely physical. When athletes warm-up before their activity, they tend to be more mentally prepared for their events. Studies have shown that competitive athletes who warmed-up before their event achieved better performances. Furthermore, they were able to visualize their performance in a positive way.
Injury prevention is one of the best reasons not to skip a warm-up. Warming-up increases body temperature, thereby increasing muscle temperature and elasticity and joint range of motion. Muscle elasticity is dependent upon the muscle receiving plenty of blood to increase its temperature. Consequently, a cold muscle, without an increased blood flow, is more susceptible to injury.
Joint range of motion is also improved at higher temperatures due to an increase in the flexibility of ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues. It is important to remember that ligaments (which connect bone to bone) and tendons (which connect muscle to bone) are not very stretchable tissue. (Think of these tissues as similar to string, while muscles are more similar to rubber bands in their ability to stretch.) Therefore, no matter how great of a warm-up you do, be gentle on your ligaments and tendons, especially your Achilles tendon.
Save yourself from a stretching-related injury by saving your stretching routine for after your exercise, or at least until after your warm-up. The best way for walkers and racewalkers to warm-up seems to be with some slow walking or racewalking. That way you're warming up the muscles that you're going to be using. Walk or racewalk at a very comfortable pace (below your target heart rate zone) for at least five to eight minutes.
Before a high intensity workout or a race, a longer warm-up is recommended. The shorter the race, the faster the pace, so the longer the warm-up. Before a 5K race, some racewalkers may warm-up two to three miles. Some elite racewalkers do the 5K course as a warm-up right before the race. Before an 8K race, a two mile warm-up is justified, and at least one mile is warranted for a 10K race.
Racewalkers who always warm-up, cool-down, and stretch warm muscles are the ones with the fewest injuries.