Warm Up Routine for Cycling

I’ve never been big on warm-ups.  One simple reason is that I always arrive late to races and run short on time, but I haven’t found much benefit from long warmups when I do get the opportunity.  Below are some examples and reasoning supporting a shorter warmup than I see many riders use.

Road vs Trainer vs Rollers

For the most important races of the year, nothing can be left to chance.  Warming up on the road leaves too many variables.  Imagine trying to warm up on unknown streets in a new town for a race you’ve traveled to.  It would be easy to find yourself on a route poorly suited for cycling and risk missing your start time, or flatting your race tubulars.

This leaves a stationary warmup a better choice.  Personally I prefer rollers because the bike is very quick to take on and off, leaving no fuss when the time is right to head to the start line.

Hot/Cold weather

When the weather is very hot, a long stationary warmup will quickly lead to overheating.  If you’re familiar with the area and have a safe route to warm up on the road, this may be a better choice on a hot day.  Otherwise, make sure to be careful to err on the side of a shorter warmup on hot days.

In very cold or rainy weather, a stationary warmup will again be preferable.  If you can find a sheltered spot, you’ll be able to warm up and stay warm and dry.  If I don’t have a stationary setup on a miserable day, I will use a very short warmup so I don’t arrive at the start line already soaked and cold.

Race Specificity

I may not warm up at all for a long road race.  If there are a few minutes of neutral rollout and I don’t expect too much action at the beginning, I may not warm up at all.  If I expect a hectic start to the race or want to go in the early break, a good warmup is on the menu.

For some races, arriving at the start line early (technical criteriums or cyclocross) is more important than an ideal warmup.  In these cases, positioning your stationary setup close to the staging area and using rollers can help you warmup until the last possible moment, and then hop into line quickly.

Warmup Length

Shorter is better.  20 minutes is a good length.  I see a lot of guys sweating it out on the trainer in the parking lot with the sun beating down on them when I pull up to criteriums to pick up my race number.  For last year’s State TT (I finished 4th), I warmed up for only 19 minutes.  I know many of you are thinking “Well, that doesn’t work for me…”  But, I’m not the only on using short warmups.

Pez Cycling News submitted this of the 2012 Paris-Nice prologue.  You may have heard the rumors that “Elite Pros don’t warm up until the 4th hour of the race”, but this isn’t reflected in their warmup protocol (about halfway down the report).  For the 9.4km TT (about a 10 minute race; very intense), their riders used a 20 minute warm up starting 30 minutes before their start time.

Another more recent example is from his win of the final stage of the 2012 Giro d’Italia.  He first previews the 27k course at a leisurely 20 mph and 164 average watts.  Almost 4 hours later he begins his 25 minute warmup, finishing his warmup 12 minutes before his start.  It’s worth noting his 30 minute average was a whopping 384 watts! He only weighs 150 pounds, putting his power to weight ratio at 5.73 w/kg.

Warmup Protocol

Unfortunately the examples above are incomplete.  Team Sky’s “Zone 5″ is a little unclear, although I’m guessing it means building to an Anaerobic power zone (125% FTP).  And Pinotti’s file doesn’t include heart rate.  However, we can see that Pinotti uses a similar protocol to Team Sky, spending 5 minutes easy, 5 minutes at 250w steady (probably Zone 2, endurance power), 5 more minutes easy, 5 minutes building to nearly race power, and a final 5 minutes easy with one shorter build to race pace.

Here is a 20 minute example protocol using . Power zones are much more useful than heart rate because the durations are short and heart rate will be lower when you’re not warmed up yet.  I’ll add approximate , but take these with a grain of salt.

TIME Power Approx HR
5′ Z1 Z1(easy)
5′ Z2 Build to Z2(endurance)
3′ Z1 Z1(easy)
4′ Build to Z4 (1 min per zone) Z3(tempo)
1′ Z1 Z1(easy)
1′ 2x 6s Sprints Z7 Z3-4(Tempo – Low threshold)
1′ Z1 Z1(easy)

If you’re used to doing a longer and harder warmup routine, give this a shot a your next lower priority race. You might be surprised with the results.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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2 Responses to Warm Up Routine for Cycling

  1. says:

    Hey Russell,

    if you had a lot of time for both an A priority Crit and TT would you warm up differently or do you think a person should change their warmup tactic? I would assume doing a few efforts over a 20 min period slowly building to TT race wattage / HR would be good for a TT and also give you the feeling of “pace” you want to hit but not go over in the beginning. However a Crit or cross race can be so anaerobic and intense right away. Do you think mimicking race conditions is best? IE focus more on a few short “sprints” using the same energy systems you will expect to use in the race?

    I’ve also wondered how long is too long to leave while cooling down waiting to start a race. Looks like the pro’s wait 10-12 min without problem…

    What ya think? would you change your warmup for different events or keep what works for every race? People always say to warm up longer for shorter races and visa versa…


    • says:

      Personally I wouldn’t change the time much, but I might change intensity in the second half a little.

      Criteriums can be 100% effort from the start. If I expected this I might make extra sure I had a few good sprints in my legs, but not every criterium is so difficult at the beginning.

      The ideal waiting period is zero. Once you’re warmed up, you’re ready to go. The only delay is for practical concerns like staging and/or making sure there is enough buffer to make your start time. In big pro races there is a lot of waiting around in staging to get the crowd warmed up, riders introduced, etc. Nobody likes it, but everybody starts on the same footing so it isn’t a big deal. I’ve been held for a while a time or two, and even up to 30 minutes won’t leave me feeling dead-cold.

      As I said in my post, I might vary the duration, but for me it is between zero and 20 minutes for even the most intense effort.

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