Coaching: Why you should warm-up before a race

Warming up for a bike race is something most, if not all bike riders will do before a race but why do you need to warm up? – Alex Welburn from trainSharp explores the subject here on VeloUK

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Coaching: Why you should warm-up before a race
Brought to you by trainSharp

Whether you are at an early morning time trial or a at the local cross race on a winter’s morning, the sound of turbo’s and rollers whining away are a familiar affair. We also see ‘warm up’s’ placed in training sessions. But what do we know about them? Do they help us maximise our performance? Or are we simply wasting energy that could be used for a race or training session?

Why warm up?

When exploring warm-ups, you may hear analogies such as, a racing car driver will never go full throttle without letting the engine warm up. So why are we doing a warm-up, what is the purpose?

Warming up the muscles/lungs/body is critical to ensuring you optimise your performance, whether you are a local club rider or a world tour cyclist, a warm-up will be beneficial to all. There are a variety of physiological responses that we are looking to induce. One of those being a change in your VO2 kinetics, a term you may not have come across before which  is the term we use to measure how quickly your body reacts with a change it its breathing rate in response to the onset of exercise.

One of the benefits of an effective warm-up, is that it up can speed up your VO2 kinetics so you can meet the oxygen demands at a much greater rate, simply meaning your breathing response rate will be much quicker, which means your body won’t have to play catch up if you decided not to warm-up.

… continued after advert


Warming up will literally help warm you up, specifically your muscles, which will help your muscles to contract and ultimately produce power. It is known that warm muscles will help improve your peak power capabilities. In fact, for the 2012 London Olympics, Loughborough University in partnership with British Cycling developed ‘Hot Pants’. These were bespoke designed for each rider with a zip up tights that had a heating element which allows them to maintain a particular temperature in-between their events, they were fast and easy to take off. We took home 12 medals that year in cycling events…

So, as you warm-up, your muscles will also produce heat, and this increase in muscle temperature helps create an environment in which the metabolic enzymes work optimally. So if you were not to warm up, you would be playing catch up, which if you are looking to perform, you want to be ready from the word go.

Not only does it help from a physiological point, but it allows you to mentally prepare for the session, or race. It helps create a routine for yourself, where you can focus on the task at hand. It can be a case of getting the music going and having that playlist that gets you fired up. Within racing, it can be a key component to your pre performance routine, so you know when it’s warm-up it time, it is time to focus.

As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the effort the more intense the warm-up needs to be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just stick to one main warm up and add a few little different parts to it. Research does suggest that including periods of intensity that you will be at during your main part (Race/training session) can help optimise your performance.

How to warm up?

As a suggested warm-up, I would recommend, doing 5-10 minutes at a very light intensity around Zone 1 just to get the legs spinning around 50-65 % of your functional threshold power (FTP), if you use that as a reference.

Then aim to work through the zones so 5 minutes into Zone 2 (65-75% of FTP) working your way through the zone then move into zone 3 (75-85% of FTP) and if you are doing a more intense event such as a TT or Cyclo-Cross race, I would then advise working up to your 20 minute power in the last minute to get everything firing. Complete five minutes again at Zone 1 and include 3 x 30 second efforts with a fast and high cadence at approximately your VO2 max power which can be around 120 % of your FTP. If you are criterium racing, you can change these to add in a 3 short sprints with around 60 seconds recovery separating the efforts. This is where you can vary your warmup to suit your needs as they should certainly be individual.

A simple, short example warm up – Progressive riding through the training zones.

Duration    Intensity
5 minutes   Zone 1
5 Minutes   Zone 2 
3 Minutes   Zone 3 
2 Minutes   Zone 4 
1 Minute    Zone 1 
1 Minute    Zone 5 
5 Minutes   Zone 1 
Total – 22 Minutes

Overall – implementing a warmup can really help you optimise your performance so you can perform at the highest possible level. If you would like to talk about how we can help prepare you, feel free to get in touch with us at


Cycle Division’s Shop

Send your results as well as club, team & event news here

Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK