The Untapped Value of a Strong Spartan Warm-up

By Spartan SGX Coach Mike Ryan, Spartan Race Sports Medicine Expert

It’s not very sexy (“Honey, I love the way you warm up!”) and it earns you very few bragging rights (“Dude, I kicked your butt in warm-ups today!”) but the warm-up certainly packs a big punch when it comes to boosting performance and preventing injuries.

Think of your body as a big tractor in the barn. (Sorry, ladies, I know it’s not a pretty image, but work with me on this one.) That pretty, sleek tractor has a big, powerful motor inside with lots of moving parts. Sure, you could fire up that tractor and quickly race it out of the barn to mow the field and drag huge trees up the mountain, but will it perform at its highest level if you followed that game plan?

Absolutely not.

If you were quick to force your tractor to work aggressively, would the risk of damaging the engine, belts and gears be higher?

Very much so.

Why Warm Up?

A warm-up allows for muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, blood vessels, the heart, lungs and your brain to “prepare for battle.” Specifically, this preparation phase allows these important tissues to do the following:

  1. Elevate their temperature.
  2. Increase their blood flow.
  3. Enhanced ability to work with other body systems.

Areas to Warm up

  1. Brain/Nerves – Your computer needs time to turn on. Your cranial hard drive, also known as your brain, also needs ample time (not just coffee) to “wake up.” Think of the value for a Spartan racer to have a well-prepared brain coordinating vital skills such as eye focus, balance, crawling, jumping, rolling, climbing and breathing.
  2. Upper Extremity – Having shoulders, elbows, wrists and even thumbs with full range of motions and strength can be the difference between failing an early obstacle and having the best race of your life.
  3. Core/Trunk – Sure, your stomach might feel better after a visit to the port-a-potty before the race, but that doesn’t mean your core muscles….front, sides and back…are ready to be tested with the heavy Bucket Carry 10 minutes later.
  4. Lower Extremity – Your horses are about to be beat-up, scraped, twisted, loaded and abused. The muscles, tendons and joints of your hips, knees, ankles and feet have the toughest job to do during your workout/race, so showing them some love before the battle is only fair.

Two women flex at the Wintergreen Spartan Super.

How to Warm up

I believe warm-ups are often forgotten because there are so few embraced leaders in the world of structured warm-ups. I want to personally fill that void, starting today with the following simple 8-10 minute warm-up.

Implementing the factors and body parts noted above, this Spartan warm-up will increase the temperature, blood flow and coordination of the brain, upper extremity, core and lower extremity:

  1. Arm Circles – Standing on one foot, do five single-arm circles both forward and backward. It’s a great range-builder for the shoulders and balance-builder for the brain.
  2. Knee Hikes with Hop – Slow running in place with a single-leg hop between each knee raise. Five per leg.
  3. Crunch – Do 10 crunches to wake up the abs and stretch the low back.
  4. Bear Crawl – A 10- to 20-yard crawl is just what your neck, shoulders, wrists and hips need to prepare for a trek in the mud.
  5. Downward Facing Dog Stretch – This is a powerful yoga pose and one of my all-time favorites. Look it up and add it to your daily routine. 3 x 5 breaths.
  6. Push-ups – 5 reps is all you need.
  7. Squat Balance – Single leg squat down and hold stable for 10 seconds. Don’t go deep enough to stress your quads but your brain will thank you for locking in your needed balance receptors. 2 reps per leg.
  8. Deep Breaths with Shoulders Back – Open those massive lungs and stretch your burpee-ready chest. 5 deep breaths is just what the doctor ordered.
  9. Gratitude Thoughts – You’re about to voluntarily embark on a challenging journey, which few are physically or mentally tough enough to do. Be grateful for your many blessings and enjoy this never-ending journey.

Don’t Do’s

1. High Intensity – Warm-ups are easy and relaxing. Save the high intensity for the workout or race.

2. Chemical Warm-up – Don’t mistake an energy drink or pre-race supplements as a warm-up.

3. Stand Around – Have time to kill before the workout or race? Get off your feet and allow your legs to rest.

Must Do’s

(1)Just Add Water – Hydrate with water before, during and after an intense workout or race. Think of it as a warm-up for your stomach so it’s more effective when absorbing fluids and calories during the event.

(2)Self-Sufficient – Keep your warm-ups simple with few props so it can be done at home, in a gym or in a muddy field in the middle of nowhere.

(3)Consistent – With the countless unknowns soon to follow the start of a Spartan workout or race, it’s comforting to know your warm-up routine is consistent and effective.

Elite Sports Medicine Tips from Mike Ryan

1. Pain Plan. – If you have an active injury, tweak your routine to properly prepare your injured body part for your rehab, workout or race.

2. Injuries Be Gone. – Tired of soft tissue injuries? Plan on mastering your warm-up and significantly reduce your risk of muscle and tendon injuries.

3. A Plan for the Start Corral. – When you get into the Spartan Race start corral, it can be–well, cramped. With your warm-up already completed prior to jumping the muddy entry wall, have a plan to stay loose in the corral. Calf stretches, toe touches, hops and arm shakes are easy to do in the corral to keep your body warm and your blood moving as you wait for the fun to begin.


Learn more about Mike Ryan, PT, ATC, SGX.

Learn more about Spartan SGX training.