Bad Warm-up – Now What?

Time and time again I encounter days that either I or many of the runners I coach just feel like crap during warm-ups. Perhaps it’s during those first easy portions (notice I avoided saying miles) of getting going. Other times you know that feeling as you put your shoes on and step out the door.

You know the day. You’re out of sorts, perhaps a bit achy, legs feel like lead, every movement is an effort, breathing is erratic, funky niggling pains stabbing this or that muscle group. The worse overall condition you are in, the more often you may in fact encounter such days. Novice runners tend to encounter them often. And on the other side of the spectrum over-trained runners encounter them more often.

Sometimes we know the reason for feeling like crap: that hard track workout, that last long run, that race last week, that lack of sleep recently, that marathon hangover, the extended travel and time zone adaptation, the lack of refueling (eating) after that hard run, or down on fluid intake are just a few examples.

Here’s another observation of those lousy warm-up days. Some of the best possible runs and races follow. I’ve made it a habit to ask my athletes after good races and bad races various questions. Tuning into warm-ups I have found there is little relation between feeling good in a warm-up or feeling bad in a warm-up and race performance. In other words, feeling great in warm-ups does not correlate well to racing/running well. Likewise, feeling yucky in warm-ups is not well correlated to performing poorly.

The trick then is to complete warm-ups as designed without personal judgment. Just do it. If it is race day, focus on your race pacing, competition or strategy. If it is a workout focus on the goal of the workout for the day. Do not let your mind focus on the subjective interpretation of the sensations you are experiencing. You control your focus.

Make a deal with yourself when you encounter tough warm-ups. Just get through that first mile; just get the warm-up drills done; just do those strides on the grass. Take a quick break to stretch then continue on. On bad days I make a deal with myself to just run down to the corner (1 mile) before I make a decision on the workout. So, I set myself up for success by getting out and getting moving.

Here is the other point. Runs and races are simply not always going to be good. If you wait for the prefect day and perfect feelings to go run or race – you’ll be waiting forever to do anything. You have to start practicing having your best bad day possible. You prepare yourself both mentally and physically for races in which you will need to persevere. Get the workout done anyway. Do the race anyway… to the best of your ability on that given day in those given circumstances.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Bad Warm-up – Now What?

  1. Christina says:

    I’ve learned that it takes me a couple of miles before I feel good and I try not to allow the warm up to cheat myself out of a good race or workout. I know that if I think I’ll do bad, then guess what…the self fulfilling prophesy will come true. Just a couple of months ago during a warm up before a 5K I felt achy, my knee hurt, my ankle hurt, heck even my eyelashes hurt. After my 2nd mile I loosened up but still didn’t feel “fast”. I ended up with a PR and shaved 1:13 off my time. Amazing considering I had a crappy warm up.

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Can’t tell you how many times this happens. The hardest part is to mentally not get down as a result because good things can happen. Just this week at the regional track meet one of my quarter milers told me how awful he felt during warm up. Thought it was going to be a bad day. We chatted a bit… just told him to suspend judgment and continue his warm up. He ran his PR int he 400 and cam e back and ran the team’s fastest 4×400 split this year and his first time ever sub-50 seconds. He was totally stoked. Once again, we have to suspend judgment and not just give up or give in.

  3. Pingback: I Feel Great Today – Now What? « The Running World According to Dean

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