By Karen Brems, Master World Cyclocross Champion
In general, the shorter and the more intense the event, the longer the warm-up. For a long road stage in a stage race, I usually just pedal around fairly easily for 20-25 minutes and count on using the first 15-20 km of the race as warm-up. For a pursuit on the track, I warm up for at least 1 1/2 hours and include some maximal efforts. One day road races, time trials and criteriums fall somewhere in between.
The purpose of a warm up is not just to heat up your muscles, but to activate the physiological systems you will use in the upcoming event. The most critical warm-ups are those for times events where you have to be ready to go at maximal effort right from the start. If I am doing a time trial or prologue in the afternoon or evening, I actually start my warm-up in the morning with an easy 30-45 min. spin. If I have been tapering, traveling or recovering from the previous race and have not gone hard for more than 2-3 days, I actually start my “warm-up” the day before the race by doing some short efforts at race intensity. Racers call this “opening up” before a race.
The concepts I am addressing in this column are really most applicable to time trials, including track events, prologues and hill climbs. People are pretty individualistic as far as what they like to do for a warm up. It is a good idea to develop your own routine. This has 2 benefits: first, you can figure out what makes you perform the best and second, it can eliminate pre-race nervousness and increase your confidence level to do the same thing you’ve done many times before. You should not test out a new warm-up in an important race. This is one reason it is a good idea to do “practice” time trials like the low key hill climbs. Many racers prefer to warm up on a stationary trainer. There are a lot of benefits to this: it is a controlled environment, you don’t get a flat on your race wheels and if the weather is cold or rainy you can stay warm and dry. The biggest disadvantage is that if you are flying to races, lugging a trainer is a real pain! I know people who fit them in large Samsonite suitcases or garment bags. I actually sort of prefer to warm up on the road if there is a good area available or especially if I can warm up on the course. This way I can figure out gear selections and make sure everything on my bike is working OK. In a track event, I like to do a few laps at race pace to make sure I know how it feels. Also, somehow everything hurts more on a trainer, so I sometimes feel better about my upcoming performance when I warm up on the road. A trainer is a good substitute though if you can’t warm up on the course.
The following is a sample TT warm up protocol based on heart rate zones. For reference:
Zone 1 = HR < 65% max. HR
Zone 2 = HR 65-72% max. HR
Zone 3 = HR 73-80% max. HR
Zone 4 = HR 84-90% max. HR
Zone 5 = HR 91-100% max. HR
20-25 min. easy on road
Trainer or road:
5 min. Zone 3
2 min. Zone 1-2
5 min. Zone 3
4 min. Zone 4
3 min. Zone 2
2 min. Zone 5
3-5 min. Zone 1
Since the majority of the time in a time trial is spent above your anaerobic threshold, you want to activate this system in the warm up but ideally you don’t want to load up your legs too much. The best way to do this is with very high rpms. This way you can elevate your heart rate and while your legs will still burn, they will not fatigue as much as when you push race gears. This is a warm up you could use for a longer TT. For a pursuit or prologue, I usually split the Zone 5 segment into 2 x 1 min. all out efforts.
Be sure to leave enough time between your warm up and your start time to get back to the start if you are on the road! You also want time for last minute clothing and/or equipment changes such as putting on your race wheels, putting on a dry skinsuit (especially if you warmed up on a trainer), putting on your aero helmet, shoe covers etc. Ideally you can have rollers or a trainer set up close to the start so you can stay warm while waiting to go. This is especially necessary on the track where you don’t have an exact start time.