How to Do a Cycling Warmup

by | Sep 20, 2017 | Training, Video

This is an exchange I had with a client where he was curious as to the variables and practices of warming up. I thought that this alphabetized thought process may be useful to you as well.
It is a document that I will continue to edit as questions and experiences shape my thinking on the subject.


a) The warm-up should be specific to the discipline, conditions and, most importantly, to the athlete and their fitness, strengths, and goals. 


b) There is no ‘perfect’ warmup but rather a routine that brings you closer to your ideal psychological and physiological performance state. This routine must adapt given the day and your goals.  The actual bike warmup is a part of your pre-performance routine. Even the bike portion should be thought about beyond the intensity of pedaling. Consider technical skills, full-body warmup and mental state (arousal).


c) Pre-Performance Routine -> This is the process you go through once it is ‘time to get ready’ to ride/race.


Practice this daily. Learn what helps you be ready for different workouts, rides, weather, and contexts. Your gear bag should be set up similar, you should time eating similar, you should use a similar method focus and get amped up (optimally aroused), you should perform a warmup you are used to, modifying for environmental and contextual factors.
  • My routine is usually to socialize by getting to race a bit early as this keeps my mind off the race. Then I do 15min easy, and then 3-5 x 30-60sec getting HR up to race average HR (or higher). I wear the same clothes and use the same gear bag every day. Nothing is new on race day.
  • Another rider may be very distractable so they may show up later and ride a trainer or start their warmup solo. If they are focused on the start they may do similar to my warmup but they may also prefer more focused targets (like the sky warmup at bottom of post). They may also include some meditation, cue-words, or music to further focus.
  • yet another rider may have some lingering injury or tightness or may have spent a lot of time doing other sports, or strength training. They may do an off-bike activation/active flex routine and then perform a short 15minute warm up to further activate and get coordinated. High rpm spinups and short 5-10 sec sprints. This routine helps narrow the focus to the relevant cues, it is how they practice DAILY.
  • Sometimes if you have not been on a bike or if experiencing poor coordination a longer, easier, higher RPM warmup can be beneficial but this depends on a strong aerobic system (base). So if you had to drive (a long time) to a race or didn’t get to ride in the days prior this may be a good solution to get back to feeling sharp. (30-60min).
  • It has been pointed out that LOW RPM, short sprints (stomps) can be nice for muscle activation … I really like these actually and I do include in my own warmup often.


d) You should be sweating at the line and have the first ‘crappy’ feeling effort out of the way.


Example: Staging for a race with no call-up. Must stand still at the start line for 20 minutes.
This is common in all levels of racing, there is a staging period to keep an eye in. So warm up early, perhaps a morning spin if timing works (often does not) and then be content sitting and be ready for it to hurt. Warmup will ‘last’ for a period of time (say 15-30min+ depending on what you did).  Point *i* below suggests we should also prepare for this ON/OFF type of training so make sure you practice this occasionally with longer, seated pauses (Tuesday nights or even between sprint work or intervals). Much of it is mental.  This is actually an area I used to incorporate more and have listed to begin doing more of for sake of specificity.


e) If it is hot you are going to warm up faster than when it is cold. Adjust your routine to match this and avoid overheating. Practice riding, performing and cooling yourself during training. Ice cold beverages, ice-packs, frozen stockings and dousing water.


f) Shorter is usually better than longer for performance. The intensity in the warmup can be hard to motivate, get used to this in training. Intensity prepares you for the start or the day’s intervals. Make sure you are prepared for the start if the start is important. Longer races typically don’t require much more than a short spin 5-15 min easy to get the blood moving and make sure bike is working.


g) Cyclocross requires pre-riding during the day 1-3x before the formal warmup period / pre-performance routine. Fuel this accordingly. Rest between pre-ride periods get short bouts at or over race speed on key technical sections (this may be part of warmup intervals). Practice this on/off riding in training (commute to work?) and at Cross practice with passive breaks and double days during training.
  *note the focus on technical sessions at speed so you don’t blow corners/crash … warmup prepares you for success beyond ‘physiological’


h) Riding in the morning before a late race can aid in ‘warm-up’ and race readiness. Warmup could be less duration/intensity possibly. Practice double days in training with short morning spins and/or commuting to work.


i) Races = Tests = Workouts -> practice your pre-performance routine in training. Don’t overthink tests or races and don’t under prepare for your workouts.


j) Consider your training load to be preparing you for the demands of a race weekend (ie. be ready to do a warmup and a race). If you are going to race a double cyclocross weekend, including a warmup/cooldown and pre-ride a cross course this means a lot of time on the bike. The training load (CTL) should reflect this.


k) General warmup to start building into your pre-performance routine -> 20-40minutes with 10-15 min light pedaling getting a feel for bike and blood flowing. 3-5 x 30-60sec hard efforts building intensity each rep. A good goal is to get Heart rate between your typical race average and race max to indicate readiness for start. Recover 3-5 minutes between effort spinning lightly.


  – Some clients prefer 2-5 minute period at race intensity (FTP?) as their main warmup set.
  – The Sky-Warmup is another one that many clients like for TT’s especially- slowly increase intensity up over 15-20minutes then perform 3 short sprints (3x5sec/10sec off between)


Anything I missed?

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