A large majority of our lives are run on habits. The habits we form, whether consciously or unconsciously, will often dictate our long-term outcomes. Reaching for a dessert every night after dinner is no problem every once in a while, but when we condition ourselves to make that move every single evening habitually, we may find those extra calories adding up. On the flip side, we can just as easily build positive habits into our lives that trend us upward over the long-term. Warming up is one such habit. Warming up has both short-term and long-term beneficial outcomes, and the sooner you build this routine into your life, the better, whether you’re a weekend warrior or an Olympian.
Fortunately, all the research backing the positive outcomes of a warm-up is in agreement: it works. Whether you’re measuring strength, power, endurance, agility, or any other athletic measure, performance improves with a proper warm-up. But the physical aspect is just one piece of the puzzle. The mental benefits of a warm-up can be just as important, if not even more so. When evaluating both training days and race days in this sport, there are numerous windows of time where a proper warm-up could have a massive positive impact. The three most obvious opportunities are 1) first thing in the morning after waking up, 2) at the hotel or in the lodge prior to heading out on snow, and 3) on the hill a few minutes prior to your first run. Each of these warm-ups will have different goals, and each will progress, one on top of the other, to build toward a positive and productive training and racing experience.
An early-morning warm-up has a few different benefits. After lying semi-stationary for 7-10 hours, simply getting blood circulating and taking your muscles and joints through a full range of motion at a low intensity goes a long way for you physically. This provides an early opportunity for a mental check-in on how the body is doing and what areas might need a little more love or attention prior to training or racing.
Mentally, building and working through a simple flow can leave you with a positive mental outlook, a sense of calm and control, and a readiness to take on the day. It puts you on the offense instead of playing defense; “acting” instead of “reacting.” A contrast to this would be someone who hits snooze a couple times every morning, wakes up at the last second, and is scrambling out the door to catch the van to the hill while his teammates wait impatiently. This person often doesn’t get a good breakfast, is more likely to forget something important, and shows up to training disheveled and unprepared. Though some may feel that’s simply their personality, I won’t buy that excuse. Anyone can learn to start their day with a sense of preparedness and professionalism, and routine is a habit that stacks toward positive outcomes.
In the realms of habit research, “habit stacking” is a technique involving placing a new habit after an old, already-formed habit. The idea in action would look like this: Every morning, you wake up (no snooze), make your bed, drink a glass of water, and brush your teeth. If you’re wanting to build a morning flow into your habits, decide where it fits in your routine and condition yourself to it. Wake up, make your bed, glass of water, brush your teeth, morning flow. This doesn’t need to be extensive – 3-7 minutes is plenty. An example session could look like this:
- Neck Rolls x 10 Clockwise + 10 Counterclockwise
- Big Arm Circles x 10 Forward + 10 Backward
- T-Spine Rotations x 20 total, building in range of motion
- Hip Internal Rotation + Lateral Lunge x 5 per side
- Walkout Pushups x 5 reps
- Squat + Reach x 5 Squats, with 1 reach per arm per squat
- Cat + Camel x 10 reps, 1s hold at the bottom and top of each rep
- Downward Dog + Cobra Stretch x 5 reps
- Child’s Pose x 5 reps, 3s hold per rep
- Iron Cross Stretch x 10 total reps
- Jumping Jacks x 10 reps
This routine isn’t prescriptive, and is one of many examples of a flow you could move through. With the overall goal of taking your body through a full range of motion and increasing your heart rate and body temperature to a low level, you can piece together anything you want. There is no reason to rush between exercises, so you should finish this flow feeling relaxed and ready.
Pre-boot warm up
The next opportunity to build in a positive habit is immediately prior to booting up. This could be at your hotel if you’re at a ski-in, ski-out location, or at the lodge if you’ve driven to the hill. This warm-up will be a bit more intense, and should leave you with a light sweat and ready to perform. The duration should be around 5 minutes minimum, but will likely be in the 10-15 minute range, especially if you’ve had a long drive to the hill. The exact specifics of this warm-up aren’t hugely important, however there are a few guidelines I’d recommend:
- Progress from a low intensity to a higher intensity, from active mobility exercises (knee hugs and walking quad stretches) to low-level plyometrics (light hops and skips) to higher level plyometrics (power skips and bounds).
- Take your time between movements, especially at the higher intensities, so you can recover and keep your quality and intensity high.
- Do enough that you feel primed, but not so much that you feel tired. This may take some testing, so take notes on how you feel after your warm-ups!
Here’s an example of something I would test out:
- Walking Knee Hug x 10m
- Walking Quad Stretch x 10m
- Hip Openers x 10m
- Hip Closers x 10m
- Scoops (active hamstring stretch) x 10m
- Walking SL RDL x 10m
- Low Pogos x 10m / Walk Back
- Light Skip x 10m / Walk Back
- High Knees x 10m / Walk Back
- Butt Kicks x 10m / Walk Back
- Single Response Hops x 10m / Walk Back (“Single Response” means you do the movement one rep at a time, as opposed to “Multi Response,” where you’d do multiple hops in succession without resetting between reps.)
- Single Response Bounds x 10m / Walk Back
- Progressive Pogos (building in intensity) x 10m / Walk Back
- Single Response Lateral Hops x 10m / Walk Back
- Single Response Lateral Bounds x 10m / Walk Back
- Multi Response Lateral Bounds x 10m / Walk Back
- Power Skips (jumping as high as possible) x 10m
On-hill warm up
Taking a few minutes to prime the engine and get yourself in the right headspace prior to a race or a training run is a critical physical and mental component of this sport. Because you’ve been through a couple different off-hill warm-ups, plus your free runs and warm-up runs on the hill, this specific warm-up doesn’t need to be lengthy or complex. Taking 3-5 minutes to focus in is all you really need. The movements you choose should be of high quality, high intensity, and short in duration (5s bursts, for example), with the goal of completing the warmup about 3-5 minutes prior to kicking out of the gate. Here’s a quick session I would recommend:
- Speed Squats (fast down, fast up) x 5 reps x 2 sets, with 30s rest between sets.
- Dynamic Forward Lunges (lunge up the hill, drive back powerfully) x 6 total reps by 2 sets, 30s in between sets.
- Dynamic Lateral Lunges x 6 total reps x 2 sets, 30s rest between sets.
- Crossover Mountain Climbers x 8 total reps x 2 sets, 30s rest between sets.
- 3s uphill sprint x 2 sets, 1 minute rest between sets.
- Click in, deep breaths, visualize, and go.
Whatever you choose to do for each of these phases, it’s best to find what feels optimal for you and stick to it. Building the habit of moving well and warming up properly will set you up, physically and mentally, to make the most of every opportunity. Build your warm-ups such that matter where you are in the world, you can re-center yourself with these short but powerful sessions.