I used to show up to an event with just enough time to put my helmet and shoe’s on and get to the start line before the gun went off. (I Love my bed) Then I learned how important a proper cycling warm up actually was!
What are the benefits of a cycling warm up?
- Accelerates oxygen uptake by dilating your blood vessels
- Warms up the muscles
- Increases force and speed of contraction of muscles
- Increases anaerobic metabolism
- Increases efficiency of joints
Great, so what does this actually mean?
It means more fuel going to your body faster, and waste (like lactic acid) getting cleared from your body faster. It prevents you from going anaerobic at the start and getting out of breath early or too easily.
More benefits of warming up listed here. (Wikipedia)
How long should you warm up?
15-20 minutes! What about longer? Not for me!
A study done by Elias K. Tomaras and Brian R. MacIntosh suggest that warming up longer than this will fatigue you. I agree. Read their findings here. (It is a very short read)
I warm up by slowly increasing my effort from 50% to 80% of maximal heart rate/power/perceived effort for 10 minutes followed by 3 one minute bursts of 85%, 90% and 95% between each burst I take one minute to recover while spinning at about 50%.
The goal is to prepare your body for the start of the event, wake the legs and body up and get mentally prepared. In my own terms, it is to let your body know something AWESOME is about to happen! Try to end your warm up as close to the event start time as possible.
Here is how Team Sky does their cycling warm up:
As mentioned in the video, it does not matter if you are a professional or a beginner cyclist, the goal of the cycling warm up is the same and you should do it the same (you may not push as much power as them, but the theory does not change).
If you don’t warm up what happens?
You feel like I did at the start of your event… like crap! Gun went off and I immediately went anaerobic wasting more energy than was necessary, breathing so heavy it sounded like I was going to keel over and die. You feel sluggish and you swear your legs have been replaced with a sack of hammers!
Should I warm up before every event?
Here is my general rule of thumb, if you have not biked that far during the year then do not warm up, no need to waste the energy. ie. century rides and granfondo’s. (The exception here is if you plan to start out fast!)
For short distances always warm up if you want to perform your best. For longer distance races it all depends on how you plan on starting the race, if you plan on easing into it at a slow gradual pace you can likely skip the warm up.
In hot temperatures you are able to warm up less because a lot of the physical characteristics you are trying to achieve are already occurring and vice versa for the cold… warm up a little longer.
There is no doubt that a warm up will enhance performance. Just find out what works the best for you.
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