The Warm Up for the Older Athlete– by Glen Winkel
When I first started bike racing 40 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the warmup, stretching, etc. Sometimes, I would literally jump out of my car, pin my numbers on and hit the start line. And then drill it from the start! Nowadays, I am much more methodical in my warmup and I want to share with you what I have learned and tie in the cardiovascular and muscular aspect of it all. But now I have to warmup to keep from getting injured and to wake up my body so I can perform well. So, how do I do it?
First question I ask: Will you be going full speed from the gun? For a time trial, since the clock is running from the final countdown till you cross the finish line, you have to get to your maximum speed and stay there the whole time, so the answer would be “YES”!
What about a Criterium, Road Race, Gran Fondo, Hill Climb, Track race (points race, pursuit, sprints) or gravel ride, cycle cross or mountain bike race? For some of these, you might answer that depends. For example, let’s take the Morgal Bismark RR. “Normally” it starts off pretty leisurely (for masters) and we mosey over to the bottom of the wall, and then all hell breaks loose! Or some criteriums, start off fairly easy as everyone gets oriented and then someone attacks after the 2nd, 3rd or 4th lap into the race. Or sometimes, the race goes from the gun, so in that case you better be ready to go! The mountain bike races I have done, the start is a full on sprint till the single track and then it settles down somewhat. Often, you will make the decision before hand and you’ll get it wrong… therefore if doing well in an event is important to you, it would be prudent to be fully prepared to go hard at the start. With that concept in mind, let’s get you ready to go, so no matter how the race starts from the gun, whether it starts off leisurely or like a field sprint you will be ready.
Now the next question you must be able to answer is: What type of riding will I be doing in this race? Steady state Time Trial effort, hill climb, road race with hills, criterium with large bursts of power plus lots of short intervals. Once you have answered this question, you now know what type of riding you are preparing for.
Let me describe what I do and why. You may have your own warmup method that works great for you and you may want to stick to that. Or you might want to try out my method instead of what you are accustomed to or you might want to pick and choose those aspects to add to what you are already doing. Each cyclist has their own tried and true method of warmup. My hope is that you learn another method of warming up and if your results are not what you want them to be, perhaps due to a poor warmup, then try to incorporate some of these suggestions and see if it makes a difference. If you find that it’s beneficial, then make it a part of your regular program.
I now have a rule of thumb about when I arrive at races. I like to have a minimum of 1.5 hours to get warmed up. Which means that I have to arrive at the race venue 2 hours before my race starts to get my race number, find the porta-potties, get the bike ready, put my gear on and start my warmup. This wasn’t true years ago when I was younger, but now it’s a general rule. You may find this a bit extreme, but then perhaps you are not over age 65 either, so plan your warm up time accordingly.
So assuming I have 1.5 hours to warmup. There are 6 phases to my warmup: These are 1) general warmup, 2) stretching 3) warmup ramp, 4) cardiovascular 5) muscles 6) Final warmup
General warmup (1)
Basically, I get on my trainer and I just turn the pedals. You might see me in my sneakers (I often don’t wear my cycling shoes during this phase). This is because I don’t need them. For this phase, I am only getting the blood starting to flow, loosening up the legs from the drive, warming up the muscles and getting them ready for the next phase which is stretching. Power wise, I am only doing 50-80/100 watts. Looking for a warming up of the heart, heart rate and getting the muscles slightly warm. You’ll often see me doing upper body twists, swinging my arms, rolling my neck and beginning to get my body loosened up in general.
This phase may go for ½ hour depending upon how tight I am from the drive.
I NEVER used to stretch before bike races! NEVER! Now if I don’t stretch, I pay a heavy price. Perhaps it was all those years NOT stretching that requires me to stretch to make up for it. Looking back, I wonder how much better I might have performed had I stretched my muscles before racing like I do now. Alas, I may never know… Now to address this controversy before it gets started…there are some that say we should never stretch the muscles before an event, since it elongates the muscle fiber and reduces the power it can generate. For me, IF I don’t stretch BAD things happen. I pull muscles, my back hurts, my knee hurts, my foot hurts, my shoulders get sore, my legs cramp up and all sorts of other things. Many times at the start line, I am in pain before the race starts as I didn’t have time to stretch! My back is just killing me! Rather than go through all the stretches I now do (this will likely be a whole Training Tips in the future) I will cover the generalities so you can add in your trouble spots. Once my muscles are warm from the early general warmup, I get out a yoga mat and a stretch strap and roller. I basically due an active stretch with the strap of my hamstrings, while stretching my neck with the roller. Then I roll out my upper and lower back focusing upon my QL (quadratus lumborum).
I roll out my gluteals, IT band, calves, hamstrings, sometime my adductors. Then I roll over and roll out my abs, psoas and quads. This whole process takes about 15-30 minutes depending upon how tight I am and how my muscles feel.
Warmup ramp (3a)
Now I get back on the trainer, and I usually have 1hr to 45 minutes for these next few sections.
So I need to ramp up my power into my FTP and beyond levels. I do this in stages. I do have my cycling shoes on now and where earlier I was at 50-80 watts power, now I start riding gradually increasing my power into the 150 watts to 200 watt range. Rather than just cranking out 150 watts, I ramp up to 150 watts in stages. First cycling into the 150-200 watt range for just a few seconds. Maybe 5 to 15 seconds. Then I bring it back down, then ramp it back up again, giving my body time to recover just a little bit. The goal is to give my muscles time to open up and let the blood in. If you have ever gone hard from the gun, you know when you first apply the power, the muscles seem starved for oxygen and feel tight. This is what you want to avoid. You want the muscles opened up so they will not feel starved when the pace goes hard from the gun.
Cardiovascular warmup (3b)
Once I have my power up to the 200 watt range, I want to get my cardiovascular system up to speed. I do this by trying to hit my maximum rpm on the bike in a lighter gear. For example I may use my small chainring and try to hit 150 rpm. This isn’t hard on the muscles, but you’ll notice how hard you are breathing. Do an acceleration into 150 rpm and hold for about 5 to 10 seconds. Then a recovery period of 1-2 minutes. Do about 5 of these with near full recovery in between. I’m not concerned about power, more about rpm. When I am at my 150rpm level my wattage tends to be in the 500 to 700 watt range, so you don’t want to use a big gear, just a large enough gear than you have some resistance. You can often attain a heart rate close to your maxHR. You want to get the heart near its max HR, so the cardiac muscle is ready to go and the blood vessels which supply the heart are delivering a good blood/oxygen supply. You don’t want to go ischemic at the start of a race! This gets the heart and respiratory system ready for a maximum effort.
Muscular warmup (4)
In this section of your warmup, your goal is to get your muscles doing the “heavy work”. This places a high load on the muscles (lower rpm, higher gear) so they are accustomed to the higher workload. For example you might put it in the large chainring, perhaps your 15-12 tooth rear cog and gradually increase the rpm until you can’t increase the speed any more. Then give yourself a brief recovery period and try it again. You can throw in one of the high rpm spins from the above just to mix it up. I normally do 3 to 5 of these high gear ramps until I am ready for the final phase of the muscular warmup.
So your cardiovascular/respiratory system is all set. Your muscles are ready for the workload. This final bit puts it all together. For a time trial, you put the bike in the gear you will race in, and accelerate to the rpm you will be time trialing at with the power setting you are trying to achieve. Let’s say you are aiming for 300 watts for your time trial. Choose your gear and then do a 300 watt effort first for 15 seconds, taper down, slight recovery, then 30 seconds, then slight recovery (till your HR starts to come down, it may take 1 min to 5 min depending upon your fitness level). Eventually you want to be able to maintain your TT power setting for about 1 to 2 minutes. Do this twice with about 5 to 10 min before your actual start time. You’ll have a brief 5-10 min recovery, but your body will be physically ready to go and you will be mentally ready for what lies ahead, knowing that you are fully warmed up and ready to go.