How to Warm Up for Cyclocross Racing

At the start of every cyclocross season, athletes ask us how to warm-up for cyclocross racing. It's a great question, and we’ve seen very few athletes be able to get up off the couch and perform a great cyclocross race start without a great warm-up. Here are a few tips that you can use as a guide to finding a more effective cyclocross warm-up, and a higher spot on the results page.

Consider the weather as you plan for race day:

We can’t change the weather - if we could we’d make sure it’s 45 and raining for all cyclocross racing this fall! Aside from pre-riding the course and course inspections (we’ll save that subject for another training tip), be sure that you have a good place to warm-up planned ahead of time.

If the weather is inclement and your team will not be bringing a tent to the race, do whatever you can to warm-up on a trainer out of the elements to stay dry. While everyone needs to know the race course well, there is no sense in warming up outside in poor weather. Bring two pairs of all clothes so you can do a lap of the course, get wet and change into dry clothes, hop on the stationary trainer covered from the elements and continue your warm up.

If the weather is not an issue, some riders like to warm-up out on the roads near the race course. This is easier to do if the race is in your backyard and you know the area, however, if you are racing out-of-state or at a new venue, it’s worth scouting the area for a section of road that allows for a predictable 30-minute warm-up.

There are no trophies for “never riding a trainer”, and if you’re serious about having a great race, the turbo-trainer will likely be the best way to warm-up for your cyclocross race. 

Timing your warm-up for maximum benefit:

Warm-ups for cyclocross racing need to be timed so that the warm-up is completed roughly 10-15 minutes before your race starts. Timing is the secret to a great warm-up! Based on our experience, timing your warm-up to end at the perfect moment is an art form, not a science. Little things like proximity to the race start and keeping an ear open to the race announcers (in case the race is delayed) will help you understand when to start and when to finish your warm-up. Before starting your warm-up, make sure you have everything race ready before you begin the warm-up! Tire pressure, clothing, water, gear so that you can go immediately to the staging area after the end of your warm-up.

FasCat's suggested 30-minute cyclocross warm-up:
  1. Begin with 4 minutes at 60% of your FTP
  2. Move on to 9 minutes at 72% of your FTP
  3. Interval #1 is a 3-minute effort at 80% of FTP
  4. Spin for 30-seconds
  5. Interval #2 is a 3-minute effort at 90% of FTP
  6. Spin for 30-seconds
  7. Interval #3 is 3-minutes at 100% of your functional threshold power
  8. Spin for 2-minutes in zone 2, 72% of FTP
  9. Interval #4 is a 30-second sprint at 140% of FTP
  10. Spin for 1-minute in zone 2, 72% of FTP
  11. Interval #5 is a 30-second sprint at 140% of FTP

Finish with 5 minutes of zone 2 before heading to the staging area. All together it looks like this:

Course Inspection:

Don't forget to ride the course before you begin warm up. These days the course is closed for another race while you need to be warming up as above.  We suggest one lap to see the course and another lap to ride the course at speed to further evaluate certain features.

Experimentation for the future:

 When you review your race, think back to the first lap and ask yourself, “was I properly warmed up or not?” If not, was it because you warmed up too much or too little? These are both great questions to ask when thinking about what changes to make for future racing. The goal is to have the warm-up dialed after 3-4 race weekends, and once you feel good about it, work on repeating your warm-up every weekend!

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Frank is the head coach, founder and owner of FasCat Coaching in Boulder, CO.

To talk with Frank and/or a FasCat Coach about your warm-up (and cyclocross racing & training) please fill out our New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation.

Otherwise start here, experiment, revise and dial in your cyclocross race warm-up!

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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