4 Oct 2016


A good warm-up can be the difference between reaching your goals and not reaching the finish line at all. Here’s why…

Those who’ve had the privilege to attend the Tour de France, or any major race in actual fact, will be well aware of the sight of dozens of cyclists pedaling away on turbo trainers or rollers. Vision riders from Cannondale-Drapac, Bora-Argon 18 and Cofidis will be sweating away, ready for the forthcoming start. ‘But they’ve got over 100 miles to ride,’ you might ask. ‘Why do they need to warm up?’

Because numerous studies have shown that elevating muscle temperature improves performance. Research from the 1980s, for instance, showed that power output increases by 4% per 1°C rise in muscle temperature up to a certain point. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems also both require warming up. The heart needs to warm up to deliver the required cardiac output, and needs a good supply of freshly oxygenated blood to sustain the cardiac work rate. The lungs, too, work more efficiently at a slightly increased temperature.

Injury prevention
A good warm-up also decreases the chances of injury. If you’re training early and have almost hopped out of bed and onto your steed, physiologically you could still be nestling in stage five of sleep (in the REM phases). Your muscles might be moving but they’re still in a temporarily paralytic state. Awaking in this phase of sleep and cranking out intense exercise significantly increases your chances of a muscle strain.

Finally, there are benefits to your neurological system. A good warm-up mentally engages you for the ride ahead and improves motor control. The result is that you’re technically more proficient so the chances of an early crash are reduced.

How long
A warm-up will benefit all levels of cyclist, though a good mantra to follow is that the shorter and more intense the event, the longer the warm-up. If you’re heading to the local velodrome with your mates, it’s worth hopping onto the turbo for up to an hour, gradually increasing intensity. If you’re racing a short crit event or time-trial, you’re looking at the 20-40min range.

When it comes to a sportive, the composition of the warm-up is a little less prescriptive. At many events, where you’re lining up with hundreds of other riders, inevitably the pace will be slowed due to the early crowded roads so there’s a school of thought that you don’t need one. Then again, even 10mins on the turbo beforehand will mentally prepare you for what lies ahead, and by reducing stress hormones, it might help you go off too fast and blow apart your pacing strategy. If your race swiftly flows into a hill or mountain, however, you should definitely undertake a 20min warm-up so you don’t hit the climb raw.

‘What about stretching,’ we hear you ask? Though many riders will still flex a knee and stretch out the hamstrings, little research exists supporting the benefits of stretching. It’s a good tool during the cool-down to stretch out the scrunched up muscles but not really needed beforehand.

Instead, play around with a 20min turbo warm-up. Focus on smooth pedaling and hit different cadences to activate your muscular and neurological system. Throw in the odd 30sec burst of all-out sprinting and you’ll be ready to go. Finally, warm up as close to start time as possible. Research by exercise physiologist Daniel West compared post-warm-up recovery periods of 45mins and 20mins in swimmers. He showed that while core temperature had returned to baseline after 45mins, they remained elevated after 20mins. That led to a 1.5% boost in performance, despite 40% of the warm-up-associated rise being lost in the 20min window.

Right, now buy yourself a turbo and hit your next race at your optimum temperature – and check out Pedro Gomes’ tips for Strengthening Glutes.