The Warm Up

In this training tip we'll describe what a proper warm up is for your next race or event. For races that start fast, a proper warm up will enable you to respond accordingly without feeling like its harder than the effort should be.  As we age a good warm up is even more important and necessary than in our younger days.  In this training tip the FasCat Coaches and I will describe how to warm up for your races and workouts, how to customize your warm up to your body and which specifics you should focus on per which type of events and workouts you’ll be doing.   Read all the way to the bottom for the Coaches practical warm up advice.

SEVEN Elements to Customize Your Warm Up to You

All riders are different and have unique warm up needs. What is the right warm up for one athlete maybe the wrong warm up for another. Start with our suggestions here using a warm up protocol like the one above and tailor to your own experience.  Ask yourself after the race, 'was my warm up good'? If you had a good race it is likely that you warmed up well!

I. Warm Up Fundamentals

II. Timing

III. Event Specific Warm Ups

IV. Workout (not a race) Warm Up

V. Using the Warm Up to Manage Stress

VI Warm Up Hydration and Nutrition

VII The FasCat Coach's Warm Up Advice


I. Warm Up Fundamentals "Rules" to Work Off Of

  • The shorter the race the longer the warmup and the longer the race the shorter (if at all)  the warm up
  • 30 minutes is “about right” for most time trials, criteriums, road and xc races
  • Shorter for long road and mountain bike races > 3 hours 
  • Longer for sub 20 minute events like a prologue time trial or a hill climb or track events.
  • Any race that you will start riding hard within 30 minutes, requires a warm up
  • Don’t go too hard or ride too long - a proper warm up is not like a full gas workout - save your energy for the real deal

Physiological Warm Up Goals: Stimulate Smooth Muscle Blood Flow Distribution

Our entire vascular system is controlled by involuntary smooth muscle. Smooth muscle around our arteries operate like valves and are our body’s plumbing system. They open and close before and after exercise. The goal of your warm up and why it takes time (~30 minutes) is for the nervous system to send signals from your legs that you need more oxygen to your brain and for your brain to send a signal to the smooth muscle to relax and open up more blood flow to your legs.  

It takes a good 30 minutes of aerobic exercise  for your nervous system to ‘open up’ the smooth muscle to allow maximum blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles.  That’s why shorter warm ups don’t work as well. 

II. Timing

The end of your warm up is as important as what you do during the warmup! Time your warmup to end 10 minutes before the start of your race.

III. Event Specific WarmUp

Plan on 30 minutes total warm up time, beginning with Zone 2 and progressing to the intervals listed below per your race type: 

2 x 30 second Zone 6 for crits, xc mtb, cyclocross

2 x 3 minutes @ FTP for time trials, hill climbs, fondos and shorter gravel events

IV. Workout (not a race) WarmUp

There’s no need for warm up with intervals before your intervals simply ride in zone 2 to where you are going to perform your interval work. 

Warm ups are less than 30 minutes if indoors due to constant pedaling and total workout time constraints.

V. Using the Warm Up to Manage Stress

Raise your hand if you stress out before races about being late, finding the venue and getting your bike ready, etc. etc..?   Yea, us too.  We have found that a good warmup helps manage the pre-race jitters.  Its stress stress with all the race logistics but once you begin my warm up you’ll settle into a routine and rhythm and use the time to get into my competitive mindset. 

The stress and anxiety relief comes from getting everything race ready before you begin your warm up.  Have your water bottles filled, race number pinned on, tires pumped up, bike dialed, and gels, blocks, bars in your pockets.

You warm up for 30 minutes and go over to the start line. What’s the number 1 rule of a good warmup? Don’t be late to your race!  Go over to the race official and ask him what time he has, compare that to your watch to synch up and then plan to begin you 30 minute warmup precisely 40 minutes prior to the start of your race, for example. 

Factor in the time it takes for you to travel from where you’ll warm up to the start, if its hot AF or raining or cold and snowy like the cyclocross racer will contend with.  Yea, we’ve “warmed up” in our cars.

VI. Hydration and Nutrition 

Plan to consume 1 water bottle with sports drink mix during your warm up.  If you’ll be using two bottles on the bike during the race, mix up 3-4 bottles to account for the warm up and pre-warm up - the 1-1.5 hours before you begin your warm up.   Finding out where you’ll pee is a traditional part of bike race. Hint - use the porter potties to keep the promoter and community happy.

For your warm up nutrition I like to have a half a banana 15-20 minutes before I begin the warm up.  I’ll eat a whole banana if that coincides with breakfast time or is a 4+ hour race. 

Right after I finish the structured interval portion of the warm up I pop a gel and chase it with drink mix for the 5-10 minutes zone 2 portion to end the warm up. Then sip on my 3rd bottle for the 10 minutes prior to the start.

VII. The FasCat Coach's Advice


One tip I always give for warm-ups is to not just think about power output, but also to mimic the cadence and position you’ll use during the race. If it’s a TT warm-up, I always spend plenty of time in the aero position. If it’s a crit, I use the drops., mixing a high cadence with some out of the saddle efforts. Travel to the race can leave you a bit stiff, and your warm-up is a great time to stretch out and get accustomed to your race position.


If you have time, preview the course! You can even do that by using Google Earth if you don’t have the time before the race. Have your “day of” race mapped out. This includes packing before you leave, pre/post race nutrition and hydration, a change of clothes (and a clean kit for the podium if you win!) THEN, know your plan right before the race- my best advice is to count the minutes backwards from your start time to allow you to get your legs opened up and do all your personal duties (bathroom, shoe covers, speed suit zipped, number is pinned, helmet is strapped) That routine took me about 40 minutes total. The goal was to go to the start line/ramp HOT!!!

I used the same routine for my career and had a lot of success**!

** Coach Allie race for the United States in the 2015 World Team Time Trial Championship


The warm up  for me was always something that I used to really mentally set myself up for success in the effort to come. Time to myself where I listened to the same album every time that I knew would allow me to get into the moment and get excited or “pumped up”. I would then, while going through my efforts, visualize my race, walking through in my mind key sections of the course, key moments that I had planned out beforehand, and how I visualized my race going. Being calm for me was key so I made sure to have everything ready to go by the time I jumped off the trainer. When I got off the trainer I would also do a small breathing routine of a series of deep breaths to center myself.


My favorite thing was to always ride the course before my race. Most races where you need a good warm up are short enough you can ride it beforehand whether it be a criterium course, short TT or cross race. You usually can take a lap of the criterium course between races or before your race starts. Look for good lines, holes, manhole covers, cracks, note how long from the last corner to the finish line is so you can think about when to start your sprint, any wind or hills and etc. Same goes for the time trial. I would show up really early if I had to so I could ride the course before the races start. I liked to get a feel for the course, mark out visuals for how long into the race I was, know how long certain hills were or which way the wind was coming. This way I could pace my effort better and know when to go harder to keep the speed up. 


If you are racing in the heat, keeping your body temp in check is important - especially if you are prone to heat exhaustion. I recommend putting a bottle full of ice in your back pocket and keeping a cooling rag around your neck while you warm up. 

And adding on to what Isaiah mentioned about “visualizing the race.” Oftentimes in long MTB events you can’t ride the entire course on race day - so one thing I always do is pre ride the course a few days in advance. For any sections that I am even a little worried that I may take the wrong line, I record myself riding it correctly. Then I watch those videos the morning of the race while I chow down on my breakfast to help refresh my memory. It always gives me a little confidence boost! 


Choose where you warm up wisely: for Criterium where you can't ride on the roads to warm up, choose a shady spot - avoid the hot asphalt parking lot.  Look for a grassy spot underneath a tree or a bank drive thru teller.  Whatever you do just don't warm up on a stationary trainer in an asphalt parking lot in the summer


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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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