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For Older Athletes, Use These Gentle Warm-Up Exercises

By Lisi Bratcher | May 13, 2019, 1:01 p.m. (ET)


As triathletes advance in age and no matter how much we train, our muscles and joints get stiffer and a little weaker. Before we go out for a higher intense or longer run or bike ride, we should properly warm up.

Why Do I Need to Warm Up?

Dynamic warm-up exercises increase the blood flow to your active muscles and increase the lubrication of your joints. While taking your joints through their range of motion, you increase their mobility. The more flexible you are, the more likely you can reduce your risks for injuries during your training.

Why Not Just Do Jumping Jacks?

One thing a female athlete older than 40 should avoid during a warm-up is lots of high impact exercises. Your muscles and your structure might not be ready. Instead, choose low-impact warm-up exercises, including dynamic mobility and strength exercises. They can alleviate some age-related decreases in the biomechanical capacity for skilled sport movements, such as running or cycling.

What If I like My Static Stretching Better?

When looking at acute effects of warm-ups on females 60 and older, it could be shown that static stretching alone and after a general warm-up significantly increased the range of all lower extremity joints. But the routine including a general warm-up with dynamic moves increased the range of motion around the ankle much more. When comparing dynamic Pilates exercises with static stretching, it was concluded that dynamic exercises are more effective for improving flexibility in older women.

Which tells us that any routine with stretching is better than no warm-up. But if you want to get ready for dynamic moves such as running or cycling, use a dynamic warm-up!

How About Running Drills I learned in High School?

Well, they might be great for younger kids, but a little bit too intense for female runners with advanced age. Instead, use a scaled down version of exercises you are most likely familiar with.


Walking lunges

1. Walking Lunges

Walk in large steps. Step forward with right leg and swing left arm forward (see picture). Focus on lowering hips by bending rear leg, without pushing front knee forward. Tighten your core, swings arms diagonally on your side, lean slightly lean forward in your torso. Keep feet pointing forward and hip-width apart.

Elbow to kneesElbow to knees

2. Diagonal Knee to Elbow

While walking, raise thigh, bend arm, and bring right knee to left elbow (left picture). Alternately bring diagonal knee to elbow, while walking (right picture). Tighten your core, keep your torso upright and avoid a hyperextension in your lower back.

Air squatsAir squats

3. Air Squats

Start standing upright, proud chest, tight core (left picture). Bend hips and knees and lower hips (right picture). Imagine like wanting to sit down on a chair behind you. Keep weight on heels, reduce pressure on knees.

Solider walkSolider walk

4. Soldier Walk

Start standing upright, proud chest, tight core (left picture). Swing extended leg up front and try to reach towards foot with both arms (right picture). Focus to keep your back straight with a slight lean forward (avoid hunching over).

side shuffle collage

5. Side Shuffle with Criss-Cross (Karaoke)

Start standing upright with soft bend in knees and hips (first picture). Step sideways and cross with right leg in front of left leg (second picture). In your next step, step side ways (third picture), then cross with your right leg behind your left leg (fourth picture). Continue to step sideways and alternate legs which are crossing in front/ in back of each other. Switch directions, by criss-crossing your way back.

Butt kicks

6. Butt Kicks

With upright upper body and arms swinging on your side, bring heels towards your glutes. Alternate legs while walking forward. Alternate diagonal left arm swing to right leg butt kick (see picture), and right arm swing to left leg butt kick. Keep torso tight. Can be done in place or moving forward. 

High knees

7. High Knees

With a tight torso and an upright upper body, swing arms on your side. Bend knee and swing thigh out up front up to your hip level. Alternate diagonal left arm swing to right high knee (see picture), and right arm swing to left leg high knee. Can be done in place or moving forward.

low impact side jackslow impact side jacks

8. Low Impact Side Jacks

Start standing upright with soft bend in knees and hips (left picture). Simulate Jumping Jack move by swinging arms to side, up to shoulder level, and stepping with left leg to side (right picture). Swing arms down and step left leg back to start, then repeat arm swing and step to R side. Continue to side step while alternating legs

How Often, How Many Reps?

If you have not done any dynamic warm-up exercises before your workouts, begin slowly and gradually build it up.

Beginners: Start out with 10-15 repetitions each exercise/ each side. Active rest with walking for 20-30 seconds and continue with next exercise. Aim for one round.

Intermediate: Start out with 10-15 repetitions each exercise/ each side. Active rest with light jog for 20-30 seconds and continue with next exercise. Aim for two rounds.

How Do I Gradually Build-up?

After a few weeks you might get adjusted to these exercises and you want to step it up to the next level. Here are options how to increase intensity.

Increase Speed: Try to increase your movement speed during the exercises.

Add More Running: During your active rest, firstly replace walking by jogging, secondly extend the amount of jogging eg. Increase to one to two minutes.

More repetitions: Build your strength by extending the duration of the exercises. Shoot for 30 seconds, then 45 seconds, then 60 seconds.

Scale Down Exercises You Enjoy

These exercises are pretty much scaled down versions of regular dynamic warm-up exercises. You can go ahead and adjust other exercises you are familiar with, and you enjoy doing. Take out the impact by doing them in place, lift your legs less high, reduce the frequency (slow down) or instead of jumping, tap your feet. All of these will make sure that you are not stressing your structure too early into your workout.

Lisi Bratcher Exercise Scientist, PhD Certified Coach & Sports Nutritionist

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.