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Training: Warming up for better results

A good warm-up makes it safer for you to dig deep in your workout, and it can also help you go faster and feel better.

A warm-up can make or break your workout experience. Not only will a good warm-up make it safer for you to dig deep in your workout, but it can also help you go faster and feel better.

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If I have a workout scheduled for the day, but find myself feeling especially fatigued, overwhelmed, or experiencing any other emotions or sensations that make a workout feel overly challenging to start, I commit just to the warm-up. Sometimes a warm-up, when executed well, will help flush out those negative feelings and seemingly replace them with readiness. Give yourself the tools you need to achieve your best workout to date, and warm up your body with these tips and tricks.

The Purpose of warming up
We all know that we are ‘supposed to’ warm-up. In fact, we probably all learned the importance of a warm-up during PE Class in 3rd grade. Yet, when push comes to shove, warm-up is one of the first things we cut out or cut down when workout time is limited and we’re in a rush. On the contrary, warming up is one aspect of a workout that should never be removed. No matter what your workout is, from intervals to base training, from powerlifting to table tennis, you should always have a warm-up.

Warm-ups help to increase body temperature, increase heart rate, increase circulation, and increase blood flow to muscles. All of these physiological adjustments help to prevent injury and help to optimize performance.

Warm-up strategies:
While warm-up plans vary between athletes according to specific needs and physical differences, the general idea is often the same. Just like anything else, it’s important to practice your warm-up and see what works best for you. Try out different warm-ups before your workouts so that you know what type of warm-up you prefer on game day.

Even though each individual’s warm-up may be slightly different, a few elements will often remain the same. Here are some recommended fundamentals to have in your warm up routine:

Easy spin:
Begin your warm-up with a 5-10 minute easy spin. Just allow your body to dictate the pace. Starting too hard or following too strict of parameters from the get-go can diminish the purpose of a warm-up. Resist the urge to judge your readiness based on how you feel when you first get on the bike, and just focus on moving your body in an easy way that feels good.

Build intensity:
After your easy spin, begin to gradually increase your intensity. Try to resist going from 0-100 and instead build up. Try spending a few minutes in each of your training zones (aerobic, tempo, sweet spot, FTP, etc). Near the end of your warm-up include a couple of minutes or a couple of hard efforts at your race or interval pace. If you still feel like you need a little bit more, include a couple of 10-second efforts to feel some snap before you start your workout.

Lower section of a person practicing bike stability on an indoor trainer
High cadence drills can help prep your muscles, get your leg speed ready, and increase your heart rate.Photo: Philipp von Ditfurth/picture alliance via Getty Images

High cadence drills:
High cadence intervals or drills are an excellent addition to your warm-up. Try completing a couple of minutes (try 3 x 1 minute) in an easy gear at or above 100 RPMs. These types of efforts can help prep your muscles, get your leg speed ready, and increase your heart rate. The easier gear, however, allows you to feel a bit fresher since you aren’t overloading your legs by pushing big gears during the warm-up.

Cool down:
As silly as it may sound, you need to do a mini cool down at the end of your warm-up. Don’t go overboard, but 3-5 minutes of easy spinning after some intervals or an intensity build will be very beneficial. You don’t want to finish your warm-up intensities, then immediately begin your workout or race because you may feel a slight bit of fatigue. You also don’t want to finish your warm-up intensity and then stand around recovering because your muscles will tighten up. Instead, spend just a couple of minutes the way you started and spin easy before heading to the start line or gearing up for your workout.

Mental preparation:
Utilize your warm-up time to also warm up mentally. With the busy lives we live, it can be all too easy to carry outside stressors onto the bike. Don’t be tempted to continue to contemplate work, or answer calls or emails while you’re warming up. Instead, use the time to pull your focus into the workout and think about your goals for the day.

Warm-up to the idea
If you’re used to just winging your warm-up or skipping it altogether, adding a bit of structure to the start of your workout may take a little bit of ‘warming’ up to. Stay the course though, find the system that works for you, and you may just unlock some unknown potential.