Dial in Your Warm-up

The warm-up is a mystery to many athletes. Too little warm-up and the body may protest under the fire of a high beginning race pace. Too much warm-up, and valuable energy and calories may have been wasted before race crunch time. More commonly, too little warm up is more of a problem than too much.

The general rule is: the shorter the race, the longer and more intense the warm-up, and the longer the race, the less warm-up necessary. The warm-up for a kilometer time trial on the velodrome will be much more intense than the warm-up for a five hour road race. When you see pro cyclists hanging out before the start of the long stages of a Grand Tour, it’s because they know that they’ll have a number of miles – probably at least several hours – at a steady tempo before the real racing picks up. However, if you know that a race begins with an extended or decisive climb or that a particular team will be attacking from the gun, a strong and complete warm-up is a necessity.

Your warm-up needs to be complete enough that the first time you reach a VO2 Max or extended threshold effort in the race, it won’t be the first time you go there that day. Every individual is different, so you need to look at your history of races and warm-ups and identify what has worked for you in the past. If you know you did a solid one hour warm-up with two 5 minute efforts before a 50 minute criterium in 65 degree weather and you had a good race, then you’ll want to try it again the next time you have that length of race and conditions. Same distance but warmer conditions? Perhaps try shortening the efforts or doing your warm-up indoors on a trainer in an air-conditioned building next to the course. You have to be creative to try to recreate the same warm-up conditions for yourself every time. It’s as much confidence in routine as it is warm-up.

In extremely cold and wet conditions where you may not be able to warm up on a trainer under a tent or other shelter, it may be that staying inside a warm car until the start is a better option than attempting to warm up but get soaked and cold in the process. This is the same with extremely hot conditions. If you can’t warm up in an air-conditioned building on a trainer, it may be that spinning around at an easy pace will be more conducive to a strong race than trying to go beyond that effort and risk overheating before the race.

What if you feel you don’t yet have your best warm-up identified? This is where it’s important to work with your coach and try the available Wenzel Coaching warm-ups to find out what will work best for you. Honing your warm-up in a variety of conditions will eventually yield a library of warm-ups that you can draw from.