This factsheet is all about warming up.
If you want to race hard from the gun, then you need a good warm-up.
If you want to race harder for longer, then you need a good warm-up.
If you want to survive the first hill, attack, or prolonged effort, you
need a good warm-up. If you don't normally get in the groove until
the middle of the race, then... you get the message. If you want
to race better you need to warm-up better, that dear readers is a fact,
not an opinion.
For most of us a winter of intense,
military-precision-like preparation precludes each season. It's a
sad fact, and a terrible waste, that very few of us prepare for
individual events with the same gusto and attention to detail.
Your body is a complex
machine of muscles, fibres, tissue, bones and juices. Just like any other
highly complex, well-tuned machine it works better when it's warm; and warming it is a fine art
and one to which you should pay attention.
Ever watched a Moto GP or Formula 1 race?
Each pilot has their own individual preparation routines (I could go
into neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) but that would take a web site
in itself, maybe some other day). Valentino Rossi crouches into a
ball, and holds the right toe peg of the bike before he gets on and goes down the pit lane clearing obstructions!
Each professional sports person has a
routine that can be anything from putting their left sock on
before the right or having their favourite motivational tune on their i-pod,
while sipping their specially mixed carb-drink. Everything is planned to happen,
nothing is left to chance.
In F1, the warm-up isn't just an
opportunity for the drivers to wave to their adoring public.
Drivers leave the line like a scalded cat, to warm the tyres. They
move the car violently from side to side, to warm the suspension.
They go up and down the gears, to test shift response and warm the oil.
They accelerate and brake as hard as possible, to put energy into the
vehicle to generate heat.
While doing all this, they mentally attune themselves to
their surroundings, the environment and those around them. When
the race starts they are as ready as they could ever be both physically
and mentally. So, what's this got to do with cycling?
Absolutely bloody everything. A
thorough warm up is vital to you hitting your event fully prepared.
You need to have a heart that's ready to pump
blood, muscles and joints ready to accept it, and a nervous system that's
synchronised to co-ordinate muscle and reflex
responses in the correct order and proportion. You also need to
prime your stomach and digestion system to start the glucose drip that
you'll need for your race. What's more you need to get your brain
in to gear. Especially if it's a time trial.
Cold, Warm, Hot.
Bad, Good, Bad
You can have too much of a good thing. Riding at 80% of VO2max for
30 minutes will get all of the above physiological responses working but
it would be a terrible warm up. Turning up in your car, placing
the front wheel in the bike then doing a 25 mile TT while you're "fresh"
is also a terrible warm up. Hot and cold are bad, only warm is
good; everything in moderation!
Each event is different.
Paradoxically the longer the event the shorter the warm up. You
might take an hour to do a proper warm up for a ten lap crit at the
track, yet you might just rub a bit of sports balm on your legs for a
125 mile cyclosportive. Just as each event is different, so is
each individual. What is a spot on warm-up for one cyclist could
see another's legs full of lactic and a heart rate bouncing off max.
Work out what is good for you, Use
the first few events of the year to hone your warm up technique.
Don't just ride out to the race with your mates then do a few ups and
downs of the start and finish straight to arrive on the line panting.
That's not a warm up, that's better than nothing but little short of a
waste. So if that isn't a warm up, what is?
A Five Stage
As we've said, everyone's different but the same laws of physics and
physiology apply to us all. So do road conditions. During
your warm-up check for road irregularities, damp patches under trees and
in braking areas. Watch out for oil on the road and farm entrances
for "farming-stuff". Ask yourself, "Will those people working in
the fields be leaving during our race?" If the horse droppings
that weren't there on the last lap have just appeared, where's the
horse? There are hundreds of clues to help you if you allow
yourself to see them.
Anyway, to the riding. First you
need to give your body a good introduction to the efforts to come.
That introduction starts with stage one, at least twenty
minutes at winter club run pace on the small ring.
Once your heart rate and body temperature
has stabilized and you don't feel the cold any more, intensity can
increase to stage two. Slip it on the big ring and
give it a minute or two at the same speed as stage one. Then,
slowwwly increase the speed and gears to finish at the end of five
minutes at a good tempo pace. Then it's back on to the small ring
to let your body settle down and recover its composure.
Stage three calls for a one
minute wind up. Not of your mates but a wind up to cruising speed.
Take two minutes to recover then go again for another minute. By
now your heart should be in race running mode and you should be
breathing rhythmically and have a slight sweat on. You shouldn't
be gasping for breath with your heart coming through your chest and you
shouldn't have any conscious feeling of heavy legs.
Stage four is
dependent on the event you're about to undertake.
obviously require a different approach than road races and criteriums.
For a time trial, you need to ride at your threshold for the duration of
the event. So a TT warm up requires a steadily increasing intensity 10
minute ride, building up to lactate threshold in the last minute.
For a 10 mile TT you might consider two of these.
require different physiological responses from your body. Although
road races normally start easier than a TT when the hammer goes down you
need to be ready. You may need to climb a hill, chase a
break or launch an attack at an early stage in the proceedings.
So, try three or four sprints of around
eight seconds just to get the muscles firing in the right order and to
clear the soot from your lungs. Take a good three minutes recovery
between each effort, if there is a hill try an 80% interval on the first
part, just to see what happens!
can, and usually does, happen on the first lap of a crit. There's
always someone in the 53x12 while the rest of the race is trying to get
their foot in the pedals. They'll probably come back, but they may
not. Whatever happens you need to be ready because if there is a
split your race could be over before the end of the first lap.
Try the TT threshold warm up, but
obviously your gears will be lower and your cadence (leg speed) higher.
After a four of five minute recovery build up to a tempo pace then give
it a ten second sprint. Take a few minutes recovery then do a
twenty second, chasing a break effort. After a few more minutes
recovery try a thirty second, launching an attack effort. There,
all race efforts simulated, tested and passed.
Stage five is the same for
all events. Take three to five minutes to recover after your last
effort. Return to the start and take a last minute swig of your
carb drink and, if needed, take a gel or a little food. Remove
your non-race clothing and put it somewhere dry, have a final check of
tyre pressures, check your pockets for food (in or out depending on the
event), check your race bottles, make sure your number is on and in the
right place, your helmet is done up correctly, your shoes are set and
then clear your mind of all distractions. You've done everything
you can to prepare yourself.
Arrive on the line, in the correct gear
for starting (very important and often overlooked), composed, warmed and
ready to go. Listen to the last minute advice from the organiser
and think through what you are going to do in the early stages of the
event. A perfect warm-up is worth nothing if you're sitting at the
back when the break goes! When the start comes position yourself
near the front and whatever happens; enjoy your
The quality of your race is dependent on three
factors; your preparation (physical and nutritional), your mental
attitude and your pre-event warm-up. If any one of those factors
is not 100% spot on, your performance is compromised. You might
still win, because someone else is even less prepared, but your
individual performance will not be at its full potential.
Like everything else in this website, not
all of it will work for you. Take the bits that do work and ignore
the bits that don't. You're not going to win every race you enter
so choose the less important ones and PLAN a warm-up routine to try.
Use the stages above as a starting point. If they work great, if
not modify them. Whatever you do, don't just turn up and make it
up on the day.
Stages one to three can be done on the
way to the event. After you've signed on and done your number, get
back on the bike and do stages four and five. Or do one and two,
then get your number; the permutations are endless! Don't start
your warm-up, get your number then get chatting and forget the final
stages. Because when the race starts the effects will at best be
minimised and at the worst, lost.
The ultimate message is: plan a routine,
try it then modify it until it suits your style. Use non-important
races to test and modify the plan. DON'T try a new routine on your
most important race of the year. It's been done and it doesn't
work. Good Luck.