The purpose of a warm-up is simple: to prepare for the workout or race in the best way possible. A warm-up should leave an athlete feeling invigorated, and prepared both mentally and physically for the hard work ahead. Physiologically, a warm-up literally increases body temperature, allowing for a number of benefits which can lead to enhanced sprint times, jump heights, and time to exhaustion during maximal aerobic exercise (Bishop 2003). The proposed reasons as to why increasing body temperature can lead to better performance are: 1) Increasing power output through accelerating metabolic reactions; 2) allowing muscle and tendons to become more pliable through a decrease in viscoelasticity; and 3) allowing for oxygen to be off-loaded from hemoglobin more readily to active muscle (Bishop 2003). With this in mind one of the main purposes of a proper warm-up should be to increase body temperature without increasing it too much. Unfortunately, many athletes get to the starting line in an ill prepared manner, putting them at a disadvantage before the race has even started.
While constructing the perfect warm-up is very challenging there are some major pitfalls that can be avoided in order to start to hone in on what works best for each athlete. Some of the most common mistakes that athletes during their warm-up include:
1) Starting warm-ups too hard, too fast. Going from 0-100% is like drag racing a car that has been sitting out in freezing cold temperature all night. While the engine might be able to handle the increases in horse power and torque, the oil and other components necessary to work at peak efficiency are still viscous which puts unneeded strain on the whole system. It’s recommended that an athlete start their warm-up at <40% FTP, something very light and easy just to begin the warm-up process.
2) Doing hard efforts too quickly. Once an athlete has become adequately warm (i.e. they have broken a sweat, their heart rate is elevated, and they start to feel loose. They are ready to begin some harder efforts. Depending on the athlete there are two different paths they can follow, or combine them.
The first, is doing 45s high rpm spins. The effort should be at a low wattage but with high RPMs. Ramp up to the wattage (~50% FTP) and cadence (>120rpm) over the course of 20s then hold that cadence for the rest of the 45s. This is going to place a high O2 demand in the muscle, driving oxygenation utilization up, thereby increasing cardiac output (oxygen delivery). Afterwards, rest for 60s.
The second, is doing 3min high FTP bouts. Start by ramping up to 80% FTP for 60s, then hold 80% FTP for 2minutes. This is more along the lines of race simulation but again should increase oxygen utilization and increase cardiac output. Afterwards rest for 2minutes.
3) Not knowing their warm-up. Make sure that the athlete practices and knows their warm-up before getting to a race or a challenging workout. Knowing how to properly warm-up won’t just help get their body prepared but their mind prepared as well. The warm-up is the time where they can visualize the race, they shouldn’t be worrying about what they should be doing to get ready for it.
Putting it all Together
A proper warm-up should look something like the above picture, starting very easy, typically 10min at 20%FTP, followed 10min at 40% FTP, don’t start hard efforts too soon. Follow the easy spinning with 3x45s high spin rpms 60s rest between. Finishing with 3min at 80% FTP with 2min rest afterwards. Finally, find a warm-up that works and make it routine.