Reasons for Poor Athletic Performance (Part I) – Inadequate Warm-Up

Susan Dawson-Cook before the La Jolla Roughwater Swim 2009This series of articles will discuss factors (such as warm-up, injuries, depression, boredom, training plateau, diet, and sleep), which may be a detriment to your athletic performance. In most articles, I will speak from a personal experience platform. Your job is to read what I’ve written and decide if any of these issues apply to you. The first article in the series discusses the affect of cold and improper (too short) of warm-up on performance. Happy reading…

We’ve all had our bad days when it comes to athletic performance. I personally have had more than I care to remember. Often I perform poorly when its very cold. If the pool water is too cold, I knot up and swim poorly. If the air is cold and I’ve been shivering, I can’t swim, bike or run well. I also don’t do so well when I do a quick warm-up before a swim race or triathlon. The race seems to hurt more than usual and I find myself performing poorly. This has become even more of an issue in my “over 40” years. This body needs at least 30 minutes to get up and running!

Here’s one of my poor-performance-due-to-cold (and my own poor judgement) stories. Last spring, I did a sprint triathlon here in Tucson. The swim was in the pool and I did just great, got out, the sun was shining, so I hopped on my bike with no sweatshirt and during the ride, the wind picked up, the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees (it must have been about 40, which is quite cold to someone who has lived in Tucson for 22 years). I started shivering during the ride and pretty soon my legs constricted and by the time I finished the ride, I was almost hypothermic. It took me almost five minutes to get my bike shoes off and running shoes on, I was shivering so much! I then donned a sweatshirt and started the run, but my muscles were so tight by then, I actually collapsed once on the course and had to walk until the cramp went away. I was almost 6 minutes off my best time! Yikes! If only I’d grabbed that sweatshirt before getting on my bike, the whole disaster might have been averted.

Here’s what I normally do to combat the cold. On a cold day, I spend more time warming up before a race. Sometimes it takes me almost 40 minutes to get to where both joints and muscles are feeling their best. I also wear plenty of warm clothes and try to find a place I can stay inside before the race (my car, a nearby building, etc). If I am doing a swimming race, I keep my clothes on until the last possible minute (if you someday see me dive off the blocks with a jacket on, you’ll know I got really nervous) and then I do limbering activities (rubbing the muscles, circling my arms, twists) to keep the muscles warm. Sometimes I take hot showers between races.

If you are especially lean or over 40, cold might be a detriment to your performance, too. Make sure you stay warm not only before the race, but during. And always do enough warm-up pre-race that muscles feel loose and limber and ready for action. It will take longer to warm-up a cold body than a warm one, so keep that in mind when you plan your pre-race warm-up.

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