The Warm Up and the Cool Down

I was recently asked by one of my athletes to share some details on warming up. Warming up for a training ride or a race can become one of the factors that can contribute to a great or poor training/racing result.

So why are warm ups so important?

A warm up is just that, it warms up muscles and prepares the body for work. A good warm up also helps to mitigate injury. Cold muscles are inflexible muscles. I like to think of a warm up as the on switch. If I warm up properly I am going to have a great performance. If I don’t warm up or warm up properly I am taking a chance on a poor performance or injury.

 Simple warm up rules

  1. The shorter the race the longer the warm up
  2. The longer the race the shorter the warm up

Warm up rules for training

The above may not apply to your training ride. If you only have time to train for 45 minutes to an hour you may not have time to warm up longer. If this is the case you will need to do some very specific drills to get the legs ready to train prior to your first work interval.

 Race warm up protocols

Time Trials of 20K or less in length you will want to warm up for 40-50 minutes. Yes you read that right. You are going to want to warm up that long. Remember it’s a short race.

  • 5 Minutes easy pedaling in Zone 1
  • 15-25 Minutes pedaling in Zone 2
  • 15 Minutes pedaling in Zone 3
  • While in Zone 3 power or heart rate you will want to throw in 3-5 hard efforts lasting 30 seconds to one minute. These could be jumps or Zone 5 Time Trial Efforts in the aero position.

 Time Trials of 40K or greater in length you will only want to warm up for 20-30 minutes. Remember, the longer the race the shorter the warm up.

  • 5 Minutes pedaling in Zone 2
  • 10 Minutes pedaling in Zone 3
  • 5-10 Minutes pedaling in Zone 3-4
  • While in Zone 3-4 power or heart rate you will want to throw in 3-5 hard efforts lasting 30 seconds to one minute. These could be jumps or Zone 5 Time Trial Efforts in the aero position.

Criteriums and shorter circuit races can follow the exact same protocol as a short Time Trial. If you are going to race in more than one Criterium or Circuit on a given race day you do not need to warm up twice when races are an hour or less apart. If the races are more than an hour apart then you can spin easy between races for 20-30 minutes.

Road races do not typically require a warm up due to their length. However if you feel better warming up for a road race then use the 20K TT protocol for your warm up.

Warm up on the course or on a trainer?

So should you warm up on a course before your race or sit on your trainer before your race. I leave this up to athletes to choose. There are many cases where you may not be allowed to warm up on the course due to race organization constraints. In any case I prefer to warm up on my trainer before a Time Trial and to pre ride a Criterium or Circuit course.

If the race is a multisport race such as a duathlon I typically will warm up with a run rather than the bike. Many triathletes will not warm up but choose to stretch before they start their swim.

Training warm up protocols

Short training ride 45 minutes to 1 hour you really only have 5-10 minutes to warm up. Here is the protocol I use to warm up for a short work out.

  • 3 Minutes of cadence above 90 RPM in the small chain ring
  • 7 Minutes of a cadence of 90+ RPM in the small chain ring but add a super spin every other minute
  • A super spin is an all out seated effort in easy gearing with out bouncing in the saddle

Training rides that are 1.5 hours are longer can benefit from using the 40K TT Protocol. However I have also been on long group training rides where we have a rule of only riding in the small ring for the first 20 minutes.  20 minutes of small ring riding at the pace of a group ride is often enough to get the cobwebs out of your legs and get the blood flowing.

The Cool Down

Cooling down after a race or training ride is your first step in recovering from hard work. You may here experienced cyclists say that they need to go ride the junk out of their legs. What these cyclists are talking about is riding in an effort to flush waste products out of the legs.  Cooling down is a very easy process it simply means the athlete needs to soft pedal or pedal until they can ride in their Zone 1 heart rate for a period of time. The period of time is dependent on how long it takes for the cyclists to get his or her heart rate back down to zone 1 and how long it take for the legs to stop feeling heavy or painful. This can take as little as 5 minutes or can take as long as 35 minutes.

If you have questions about this article any other please leave a comment.

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Thanks for reading and have a great ride,


Coach Rob

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