Don’t Ruin Your Workout Before You Start

Speed workouts are hard. And if you do them correctly, they have a big impact on your fitness and race-readiness. But to get the most out of that hard work, you have to put your body in a position to succeed.


You probably do a warm-up before your speed work, but it may not be accomplishing what you need it to. So if you’ve been using the same warm-up routine because it’s … well … routine, let’s take a closer look.





Your speed workout generally will include certain distances and paces designed to challenge specific energy systems (if it doesn’t, that’s a bigger issue!). But you need to make sure that you warm-up correctly to get the right benefit from the workout.


An effective warm-up leads to an effective workout


In simple terms, the goals of your warm-up should be:


1) to get blood flowing to your muscles and get your heart rate and breathing up


2) to get your muscles primed to work hard, which also includes …


3) getting your nervous system awake and alert


Accomplishing these things during the warm-up will allow your body to work through it’s “start-up phase” and be fully functioning by the time that you start the workout.


Get your body up to speed before your workout


Skipping this step (or doing it incompletely) means that your body has to try to get up to speed during the workout itself — that’s exactly what’s happening if you’ve ever had the experience of a workout feeling much easier by the second or third rep rather than the first.





Here is an example of a warm-up routine that accomplishes our three main goals and does it in a relatively short period of time:


1) Leg Cycle drill



This helps get the nervous system in the “running mindset” and helps loosen up the legs before running.


2) 10-25 min warm-up run


Start at a nice, jogging pace and gradually increase throughout the run. By the last couple of minutes, you should be running at your normal easy run pace or slightly faster. If you’re pressed for time, you can keep it to 10 minutes, but I think you’ll find it’s more effective / enjoyable if you stretch it to 15-20 minutes, especially if you run in the mornings.


3) Skipping exercises


I’m a big fan of skipping and usually recommend a variety of skipping drills for 20-30 meters before a speed workout, including:


— Skipping with forward arm circles and backward arm circles


— Skipping with swinging arms across my body


— Backward skipping version of both drills


Unusual movements help wake up your nervous system


Doing the drills backwards helps to wake up your nervous system by giving it a more complex / unusual task. Skipping also begins to get the muscles engaged and working a bit harder.


4) Muscle firing moves


Here is where I like to include squats and lunges. They get the muscles working hard and keep the blood flowing and the heart rate up. Maintain good form with these exercises, but keep the rhythm fairly quick.


5) Ankling drill



This is a great drill to help get your nervous system thinking fast turnover. The cadence variation of this drill (that I talked about last week) is a great way to get your feet moving fast and start to get the fast-twitch fibers primed:


— Do the Ankling drill for 20 seconds, counting the steps your right foot takes


— Rest 40+ seconds and repeat, aiming to get a higher number of steps than the first time.


— Repeat twice counting on your left foot (for 4 rounds total)


6) Strides


This is where it all comes together to get your body ready to start the workout. The blood is flowing, the muscles are firing, and your nervous system is awake — time to run fast!


Your strides can be anywhere from 50-150m (or you can substitute 10-20 seconds). I like starting with a few shorter strides and then gradually adding in longer ones.


Fast is relaxed and relaxed is fast


Start each stride off at roughly 5k pace and gradually build speed through the first 1/2 to 2/3 of each stride — holding your pace for the final portion. The goal here is to be fast, but also relaxed and smooth. Rest for 30-60 seconds after each stride, so that your heart rate stays up and your blood keeps flowing.





From here you’re ready for a killer workout. You want to be breathing slightly heavier than normal and sweating a little bit when you start the workout — that’s the sign that your body is primed to do its best work!


The specifics of your warm-up can vary (for example, you’ll notice I didn’t include high knees, butt kicks, etc. but they can certainly be effective), but keep in mind the goals of: blood flow, muscles primed, nervous system awake. That will make sure that none of the hard work you put in during your workout is wasted!


About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.