Opener & Tune-up Rides for Cycling

Opener & Tune-up Rides for Cycling

Opener/Tune-up rides are essential preparation for race days. There are many possible Opener/Tune-up exercises. Not everyone needs quite as much intensity as some athletes may. Either way, this method will provide an adequate challenge to prepare anyone:

You will need a heart rate monitor (and/or power meter) to carry out this exercise.

  • Step 1: Warm up for 10 – 15 minutes easy.
  • Step 2: Move to the big ring and around mid cassette. Ramp up the speed gradually over a couple of minutes, shifting as needed to keep the cadence high, 90 – 120 RPMs, and keep going faster and faster until your legs or lungs keep you from going any faster and you are unable to maintain the speed. You should be out of breath and feeling your legs burning.
  • Step 3: Soft pedal until recovered enough to start a new effort. 2 – 5 minutes should be enough.
  • Step 4: Start your second effort, but instead of starting gradually, begin by jumping out of the saddle to bump the heart rate more rapidly. Go harder and harder until you can’t maintain the speed any more and you begin to max out or blow up and the heart rate plateaus. You should be out of breath and getting some build up in the legs but as the sets go on, your heart rate and top speeds should rise. Don’t target a period of time, but rather a feeling of effort, which could take anywhere between 90 seconds and 4 minutes.
  • Step 5: Soft pedal until recovered.
  • Repeat Step 4 and Step 5 two to four times until you pass your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR), which is the heart rate number you see when your muscles start to produce more lactic acid than they can process and you feel “heat” in your legs AFTER you are completely warmed up. When you are not completely warmed up, you may feel heat at a heart rate below your actual LT heart rate. (If you don’t know your LT, your Wenzel coach can help you find it.) After a total of three efforts, if your heart rate is easily going past your LTHR and you feel like you are recovering quickly, that’s enough. If you still feel a bit sluggish after 3 repetitions, do up to 2 more.
  • Step 6: Soft pedal until the end of the time assigned for that day.

Normally, after a period of rest your perceived exertion, how hard you feel you are going, will not match your heart rate. The goal of Openers is to get your heart rate and perceived exertion back in sync. This should take a few efforts.

Note: Avoid low cadence (<80 RPM) in your opener intervals, because this will do more muscle damage and cause fatigue.

Warm Ups on Race Day

Use your Wenzel Coaching Super Warm Up, choosing the version that matches your available time. If you are not yet a Wenzel client, you can use the same process as openers, either on the trainer or road, but adding 10-30 second wind ups (high RPM sprints) after completing the opener efforts, every 5 minutes until the race starts.

Tips for Openers on the Bike

  1. Less is more: First rule, openers are NOT meant to be training. Their purpose is to get your systems reopened. That’s it. Doing 5 sets of 4-minute efforts could turn into an exhausting workout even for a very fit rider if you are going 100%. You may be opened up, but you’ll also need time to recover from the effort. If you are able to go past your threshold on the first set after 90 seconds, doing 3 efforts of 90 seconds is all you need. If you can max out in 1 – 2 minutes, don’t push to 4. If you are opened up, job done, cool down, go home.
  2. Speed over power: With openers, leg speed is the focus. If can reach 185 bpm riding in a gear ratio of 53 x 16, that is better for your muscles for the next day than riding a 53 x 11. Focus on high leg speed and going fast to get opened up. This will get your muscles firing properly and your heart and lungs working well. Think about a crotch-rocket motorcycle versus a Harley. The Harley may look cooler and have more power, but the crotch-rocket’s high revving motor can accelerate much faster even though the engine is smaller. Using a high cadence will get your heart rate and system opened up just as well but will do less damage to your muscles, keeping you fresh for the next day.
  3. Openers on the day before are the most important ones: The higher the category you reach or the bigger the event, the less control of your warm-up time you have. An elite racer could spend over 30 minutes in the waiting area for national anthems and call ups or could be hounded by spectators, seriously shortening the warm-up time. There are some tricks to getting around challening warm-up options in just about any setting, but being completely open the day before is the only way to ensure that you will be ready and able to adapt and warm up quickly on the day of the race.
  4. Go ‘til you blow, don’t limit yourself by your AT: If you are racing a 1 km time trial, just seeing your AT once won’t cut it. The Kilo event is the best example of an event that requires multiple 100% efforts to be fully prepared to get off the line at your best. Similarly, a criterium, even though not as intense as the Kilo, can at times require a sprint from the gun. Therefore, to ensure you are ready to go, your goal should be to hit the highest heart rate possible during openers the day before and in the warm-up so that the body is not trying to do it for the first time during the race. Don’t watch your heart rate as a gauge to know when to stop, look at your heart rate at the end of the effort to see how high you got.
  5. If your heart rate spikes high on the first repetition, continue with caution: With heart rate, there is normally a bit of a lag time between going hard and your heart rate going up. On the first set, your legs and lungs will normally feel maxed out even though your heart rate isn’t that high; but given a few reps, it will catch up. However, if your AT is 175 and your heart rate hits 185 in the first set, it could be a sign your body is not liking something. One possibility is you could be getting sick. If this is the case, just use perceived exertion and ignore the numbers of your heart rate monitor doing the same workout as normal. However, if it’s very hot and you are not acclimated to it, make your day before openers as short as possible and consider an AM warm-up on race day in the cooler air. Heat sickness is one of the few things that can make you feel off even if you are opened. If you are starting to get chills on a hot day or you notice you’ve stopped sweating, go to a cooler place right away, even if it means cutting your openers short. Your life is more important at that point than finishing a session.

Openers should be done before any event that is likely to push your aerobic limits. There are many different ways and places to do openers, including using a trainer, a trail, a track, a parking lot, or even a grass field. Your Wenzel coach can help you decide the best way for you to open up for your next event. The key to remember is that the goal of doing openers is not to get fitter but to remind your body what you want it to do during the race.


Coach Luke Winger has experience racing in the ranks from the junior, to collegiate, to elite and master. He works with road and dirt athletes in racing and endurance events of all levels with training programs, consultation and skills training.