How a Warm-Up Framework Can Save Your Race Day

How a Warm-Up Framework Can Save Your Race Day

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Having a set way of approaching warm-ups, regardless of the type of race, is a useful tool to save you from working harder than you should on race day.


How a Warm-Up Framework Can Save Your Race Day.

We all know we should be warming up before races, and even before hard efforts in training, but how specific do you get? Do you put much time into perfecting your warm, and do you change it for each type of event you race? I’m going to look at a framework for your warm-ups that can make it easier to tweak until you have it dialled in and are not wasting energy and brain power on race day. First up though let’s delve into two recent studies with interesting findings.


A review of all warm-up studies concluded that none of the studies persuasively showed that any one approach to warming up was best, or even that a warm-up necessarily would make you significantly better at your sport or prevent injury. That’s hard hitting, I bet just like me, warm-ups are ingrained in your head as a must. Even if it’s just rolling around before a race, you definitely will at least try and do something. My take is that the benefit of a warm-up has a mental component even if the physical component wasn’t proven in this meta-analysis.


Cleaning out the cobwebs, revving up the engine or whatever turn of phrase you use, warm-ups remind the body and mind what they are about to do. It puts your brain in a heightened state of awareness and primes you for effort. Just how well you can harness this on the day could make or break your race. I will go into mental a warm-up routine in the actual framework.


Should your warm-up be shorter?


Until recently a long warm-up was considered best for performance in short cycling events, but a study conducted in Canada may change all that. It looked at the length of warm ups compared to performance. While the events they tested were limited to the track, the findings are a little surprising. Is more better? Or is less more? The main point of the research was to demonstrate that more warm-up is not necessarily better and that athletes of any sport should question the norm, even if a certain warm-up protocol is performed by the top athletes in the world because it is possible for them to be fatiguing themselves as well. The study mainly proved that you can warm-up too much, resulting in muscular fatigue which can negatively impact high-intensity athletic performance.


My recommendation; if you’ve been following a warm-up routine for a while and you haven’t gotten injured and you perform well when you race, then that warm-up is working for you. Keep it up. If your legs feel heavy and slow after your warm-up, you might be overdoing it. Experiment with shortening and reducing the intensity of your warm-up.


Alright so let’s get to the warm up itself.


Different types of different riders and different races. The shorter the race, the longer the warm up. Listed from longest to shortest warm up, also in order of importance. Specific energy systems need to be ready to fire when called upon during a race. Aerobic, lactic acid, VO2 and anaerobic systems. You want to get to the race start as close to your race HR as possible but how not to go too far to the point of fatiguing the muscles. When was the last time you changed your warm up to see the effects? I have put together a framework as a starting point for developing your own. Experimenting and repetition will be the only way take this framework and create a individualised and repeatable warm-up just for you.


A few things you need to know before we get into some warm-ups:

  • I’m not a coach
  • New routines should always be tried out in practice.
  • This framework is specifically for ‘Cross, MTB and TT.
  • Your Max Heart Rate and training zones.


Do you know your max heart rate?


To find it use the following method from here.


Max Heart Rate


This test requires a Heart Rate Monitor and a trainer. It may be helpful to have someone assist during the test, to encourage you when things get tough and to take the readings from your Heart Rate Monitor.


  1. Warm-up: 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Intensive Time Trial effort: 10 minutes (ride as hard as possible).
  3. Maximum effort: 1 minute, including sprinting the last 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Read the Max Heart Rate on your Heart Rate Monitor.
  5. Warm down: 10 minutes.
  6. Repeat 2 or 3 times with 2 days rest between each test to establish your true maximum.


The following table is a breakdown of the training zones endorsed by Cycling Australia. They are what I have used my entire riding career and they have served me well.


Description Intensity Code Zone Range
VO2 MAX Boosting Very Hard –Can’t speak VO2 92-100%
Anaerobic Threshold Endurance Hard –Difficult to speak at all E3 85-91%
General Aerobic Endurance Moderate – Talk in short sentences E2 75 – 84%
Base Aerobic Endurance Easy – Able to carry out conversation E1 65-74%
Recovery Easy – Able to carry out conversation REC 50-64%


You want to be set-up and ready to roll on your warm-up 60 minutes before the start. Timing is everything here not only to be prepped for the race but to ensure you don’t miss the start of the race. I have done this and seen someone do this at the national level…ouch!


1. Stage one: E1 & E2

At least twenty minutes at an easy pace. This time can be used for course inspection, which is especially important in mountain biking, cyclocross and to a lesser extent crit racing. It more for conditions on the day rather than learning the course. Especially important if it has been raining!

If it’s not practical, or you’re comfortable with the start and course then just stick to the trainer. Once your heart rate and body temperature has stabilized and you don’t feel the cold anymore, intensity can increase.


2. Stage two.

4 Minute Tempo in E2
2 Min Recover in E2

Starting to get more specific and another time check. This time you want to be at 35 minutes before the start. Return back to your trainer and sit at. Slip it on the big ring and increase the speed at a good tempo pace. Then it’s back on to the small ring to let your body settle down and recover its composure.

Here is where I also start to introduce mental a warm-up. If you are not feeling positive emotions prior to the race, act as if you are energized and positive. When you act in a particular manner,
the body will neurochemically and emotionally respond accordingly, just as the mind does not know the difference between acting energized and fun loving and actually feeling that way. If you practice faking it until you make it, you will be able to summon emotions shown to positively affect performance. Additionally, find a song that evokes positive emotions for you. You can listen to the song during your warm-up and just before the race starts to jump-start the flow of helpful emotions, and often the song can be a focal point during the race. This much like the motivation technique in episode 7.


3. Stage three

3 Minutes Sub threshold below race pace, E3
3 min recovery in E1

By now your heart should be in race running mode and you should be breathing rhythmically and have a slight sweat on. You shouldn’t be gasping for breath with your heart coming through your chest and you shouldn’t have any conscious feeling of heavy legs. Under this load is where visualization that includes positive imaging of riding the course and how the start should go will be beneficial. Just focus on what your body has to do at the start and let your mind. The atmosphere produced by music and focus will prepare you for the immediate hit out.


4. Stage four is dependent on the event you’re about to undertake.

‘Cross & MTB
2 x 30 secs in VO2
1 min off in REC


Time Trial
A steadily increasing intensity 10-minute ride, building up to lactate threshold in the last minute.
5 minutes 75% or E2
3 minutes 85% or E3
2 minutes 90% or E3


10 secs close a gap effort in VO2
1 minute off in REC
20 secs chase the break effort in VO2
1 minute off in REC
30 secs launching an attack effort in VO2


Imagine yourself in these situations, and in control of your body and emotions. It will help you when they are happening during the race.


5. Stage five in E1

3-minute recovery is the same for all events. Take three minutes to recover after your last effort. Take time here and don’t get caught up in the hype before the race. Get dry and changed into your race clothes and make your way to the starting area.

By breaking down your warm-up into these 5 stages you can begin to tweak your physical and mental preparation. If anyone wants help please get in contact and we can talk about how to adapt it to your racing.

If you have any comments about the show you can leave a voice message from the home page or write me a comment on this page. Thank you.





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2 Responses to How a Warm-Up Framework Can Save Your Race Day

  1. Hi,
    in a 2yr cyclist just starting racing. Listened to 1-10 driving from Wagga to Sydney.
    love learning and connecting, so will hear more from me!

    great stuff!

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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

Get your free copy of The Weekly Workout Stack™

Build fitness on a realistic schedule with The Weekly Workout Stack™

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