Warm Up

This month's Performance Tips looks at the vital component of pre race preparation that is so often missing or incorrect. Follow these guidelines and your performance is sure to improve.

In this article I will aim to inform you of the various types of warm up that you should be considering, why they differ for different rides and what are the benefits of warming up. Then, we'll consider a specific race warm up. However, 'new' warm ups should always be tried in training first and never try a new warm up (or anything else) just before a race - you're just asking for a 'disaster' to happen!

This article is for educational purposes only. Before, embarking on any exercise regimen you should be fit, healthy and free from any illness/disease. If you have any queries or are not sure about your general health and well being, you should contact your health care advisor/family physician.

What does a warm up do?
Physiologically speaking, increases blood flow and muscle & core temperature.

This results in:

  • Increases muscle temperature - increased speed of contraction & relaxation
  • Greater mechanical efficiency because of lowered resistance in the muscle
  • Increased nerve transmission and muscle metabolism
  • Reduces the risk of muscle damage
  • Increased blood flow as the muscles 'vascular bed' dilates
  • Increases FFA mobilisation (sparing glycogen)
  • Prepares you psychologically for the intense efforts to come
  • Once you're warmed up, you're ready to race or train properly.


Duration of warm up?
This is dependent upon many factors: how intense the ride will be, the duration of the ride, temperature (or lack of), how fit you are and your present state of recovery, to name a few. In general, we can say that the length of the warm up should be inversely proportional to the length of the race/ride. For instance if you are riding a 1 km track TT, the warm up should be lengthy - around an hour, whilst a 12 hr TT would require a very short warm up - around 10 minutes. But, these two examples are often both ends of the extreme.

In road races, that last several hours it would not be uncommon to warm up for between 20 - 40 minutes, whilst a short circuit race or 40km TT, would see the warm up extended to up to an hour. Stage races offer different problems for a warm up, not least the fact that as the race progresses riders tend to accumulate more and more fatigue. With this in mind, the warm up should be fairly short (around 20 - 30 minutes) or if the early part of the race is run at a low tempo then the warm up could be further reduced (10 - 20 minutes). Conversely, if it's the final day and a short stage, you're feeling exceptional, try a 'good', long warm up and 'go for it' at the beginning of the race.

Environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity will also affect the duration of the warm up. During the early part of the season when it is typically cool, or when the temperature is generally not good, the warm up should be extended - to allow for the greater time required to bring your muscles up to 'operating temperature'. Conversely, on hot days the warm up can be reduced. Also, don't forget on high humidity days, sweat can't be evaporated at a fast enough rate to keep you cool and therefore, there is a risk of mild dehydration. Therefore, warm up time should also be reduced and/or more liquids taken in.

Warm up... Hard work?
Aside from the duration of the warm up, the next critical factor is the intensity that the warm up is conducted. So you just warm up by spinning low gears for 40 minutes….? Think again! Warming up is all about priming your body for what's ahead. You don't race by spinning low gears - so don't warm up all the time by spinning, you need some 'hard efforts'.

Firstly, check your bike, pump your tyres and get your warm up kit on. Shorts, leg warmers/tights (depending upon conditions), undervest, socks, spare racing jersey, helmet and cycling shoes. The first component of warming up (which should last a minimum of 10 minutes to half the warm up period) should be easing spinning. Start in a low gear at a medium cadence and after 5 minutes gradually bring the cadence and intensity up to an 'easy' level. Typically, this will be around 60 - 80 b.min-1 from maximum heart rate (MHR). After the initial 10 minutes, increase the intensity to around 50 b.min-1 from MHR to complete the first component of the warm up. This part of the warm up can be completed on a turbo trainer or the road and don't forget to sip a carbohydrate - electrolyte solution such as SiS GO, to help maintain and increase [blood] plasma volume.

The second component is often the 'critical' moiety of the warm up. Firstly, strip down to race clothing. You could then start by trying 30 seconds to 3 minutes at 40 b.min-1 from MHR building to 30 b.min-1 from MHR. This should be followed by a few minutes at around 35 - 45 b.min-1 from MHR. By now the body should be getting used to some hard work and now you can throw in some hard efforts at 25 - 15 b.min-1 (race pace efforts) from MHR for 20 - 40 seconds duration. Several of these should be performed, interspersed with around 2 - 5 minutes of easy riding between the hard bursts. For the next few minutes you should spin gently to arrive no longer than 5 minutes before the start.

Warming up isn't just physical. Mind set, relax and focus. You've had a hard day at the office/school, your partner wants you to do the cooking/do some jobs around the house or the kids are playing up. These are all things that can adversely affect your mental ability to ride hard. That first part of the warm up…switch off from the normal daily routine, forget about your chores and relax, try some deep breathing (this'll be covered in a later issue of Performance Tips), use a Walkman® to listen to your favourite music and let the pedals soothe your worries.

Now that you're relaxed you can start to concentrate on the task ahead. By using mental imagery techniques, imagine yourself cycling over the circuit, where you need to change gear, where you need to brake and where to put in that killer attack. However, if you're prone to nervousness/anxiousness before a race, play calming music and relax. Oh and don't forget to cut out coffee / caffeine if you're nervous.

If you find yourself needing the toilet before a race go about 10 minutes before the off. After that if you need to go it is more than likely your body's response to increased adrenaline and you won't need to go - toilet thoughts will disappear as soon as you start racing.

For a two hour road race/40 km TT your warmup might look like this...

  • 3 hours before, eat a high carbohydrate meal
  • An hour before, arrive, sign on, set up bike, get changed, mentally relax
  • Approximately, 50 minutes before the start get on the bike - play some music
  • Start sipping a carbohydrate - electrolyte solution (eg SiS GO)
  • 5 minutes very easy (eg 42 x 21)
  • 5 minutes at a light level (eg up to 42 x 17 / 16)
  • 10 minutes at 50 b.min-1 from MHR
  • Strip down to race clothing (leave on leg warmers - depending on weather)
  • 3 minutes at 40 - 30 b.min-1 from MHR
  • 3 minutes at 45 - 35 b.min-1 from MHR
  • 3 sets of: 30 seconds race effort (eg 53 x 16 / 15) followed by 3 mins easy.
  • Ride easy for 5 minutes to arrive at the start (~ 50 b.min-1 from MHR)
  • RACE - Go get 'em!

Don't forget that a good warm down is vitally important, especially if you are riding a stage race or have a race on the following day. Think positive, confident thoughts whilst warming up and don't forget to try any new ideas out in training first.

There is never any thought that you need to warm up before a race, but what about training rides? The answer to this is of course you need a warm up, but more than likely it will differ from a race warm up. The main difference is that warming up for training will usually be conducted over a smaller time scale.