You're Getting Warmer|
Monday, March 19, 2007
Your legs feel heavy and unresponsive. Your heart rate climbs rapidly
and rises higher than it should, relative to the effort, or it won't
climb at all. You push yourself to keep up and begin to feel like an
old VW Microbus, sputtering up a mountain pass. Eventually you back
off the pace, fearing that you won't be able to continue. You slow
down and start to feel better. Within a half hour you seem to catch
your second wind.
So what went wrong?
Did you allow plenty of time to prepare both mentally and physically
before the ride, race or training session? Did you arrive at the last
minute and scurry to get started? Was it the stress from rushing?
Maybe, but it's more likely that you didn't allow your body the time
to adequately warm up.
Warming your muscles prior to a race, training session, or a long
ride is important because of several physiological factors. To begin
with, it's crucial to gradually increase the temperature of the
muscles and connective tissues involved in the activity. A warmed
muscle is more elastic and can quickly contract and relax. Warming up
will also increase blood flow to the working muscles. This process
will deliver additional oxygen to the muscles that are used when
riding. It's also necessary to activate the energy systems that will
be called upon to perform, such as the metabolic processes that
provide fuel for the working muscles.
If your muscles are not properly warmed, they may cramp, become
overstretched resulting in injury, or feel tight and heavy when you
need them to be loose and lively. However, warming up should be done
without fatiguing the muscles.
The warm-up is also a good time to enhance your focus and mentally
prepare for your event. Therefore, it is important to allow yourself
plenty of time to warm up to avoid feeling rushed or stressed.
The idea is to develop a routine that is adequate for the upcoming
output demands and consistent enough that you are able to eliminate
it as a cause of a poor performance. If you know that your warm-up
was the same as you've always done in the past, but you felt sluggish
or weak, then you can look at other factors that might be affecting
your performance. The following are general guidelines to warm your
Since the idea is to warm the body, it's important to dress properly.
In cool weather, wear tights and a jacket. If it's hot, be sure not
to overheat. Regardless of the temperature, drink plenty of fluids
during the entire warm-up routine to prevent dehydration.
A warm-up routine should include a general and a specific phase,
followed by stretching. Time your warm-up so that you complete it
about five to 10 minutes before the start of your event or training
session. Try warming up on a stationary trainer or on the road. If
you are racing, be sure to check your start time and find out if the
event is running as scheduled.
PHASE 1: GENERAL
During the first and general phase of the warm-up routine, keep your
rpms high (around 90) and the resistance low. This phase should last
between 15 and 20 minutes. For the first five to 10 minutes, spin
easy until you break a sweat, then add a little resistance, but not
enough to cause muscle fatigue. The time it takes for you break a
sweat will vary, due to factors such as outside temperature and
humidity. The purpose of this phase is to: loosen your legs, raise
muscle temperature, direct blood flow to the appropriate muscles and
allow quiet time to mentally prepare for the event.
Include some deep breathing exercises to help you remain relaxed and
focused. Visualize yourself riding strong and fast, but effortlessly.
If you tend to get knots in your stomach near the start of a race
(who doesn't) stay focused on your personal riding strengths. Imagine
yourself exploiting your strengths and feel confident about your
By focusing on riding smooth, efficient, and strong, you'll stay
relaxed. Some athletes like to wear headphones and listen to
inspiring music during the warm-up — some like to "rock out." If you
find yourself getting nervous before races, start out with some
relaxing music and pick up the tempo closer to the start of the race.
Once the muscles are initially warmed, you should take about five to
10 minutes to gently stretch. Be sure to include the quadriceps,
hamstrings, calves, lower back, neck and shoulders in your stretching
PHASE 3: SPECIFIC
Following the general phase, the specific warm-up phase should then
activate the metabolic processes associated with higher energy
output. Spin easy for five minutes after stretching, then gradually
bring your heart rate up to just below race effort. Spin easy for a
couple of minutes then bring your heart rate back up again. This
should be done with moderate resistance and high rpms to prevent
The ideal warm-up routine will vary, depending on the type and
duration of the event and the individual participating. Personally, I
like a 45-minute warm up while others are comfortable after 20
minutes of warming up. Experiment with different warm-up lengths and
routines until you find your groove.
If you're preparing for a time trial or downhill race, spend up to
two minutes near race intensity. You'll need to experiment with this
type of warm-up. Make a mental note of the point when your legs get
past the tightness and seem to tolerate the higher effort. This
shouldn't be interval training. This isn't the time to impress your
friends or get a second look at your breakfast. The level of effort
shouldn't be uncomfortable, but should be enough to briefly elevate
your heart rate and thus activate the physiological systems used
during race efforts.
Spend the last five to 10 minutes of the warm-up at a low intensity.
As I get older, I feel more and more like an old car with a faulty
choke. If I drive hard before the engine is warm, I stall and end up
on the side of the road, waiting for help. Using these guidelines to
develop a warm-up routine and allowing plenty of time to properly
warm up, will better prepare you to go hard and fast when needed. If
your body isn't properly prepared, then you risk injury and may get
— Thomas Chapple, MountainZone.com Correspondent
Thomas Chapple is a licensed USA Cycling coach, a certified personal
trainer, and a triathlon coach.