From the Coaches: Why you need a proper Warm-Up

Most of us have learned that we need some time to “warm up the engine” before starting into harder efforts. And anyone who has watched a time trial stage of any major cycling race has seen the pros ticking away on a trainer before they start. So what exactly is going on here?
It turns out there are quite a few factors involved here.

  1. Blood flow. At rest, your body isn’t sending much blood to your legs. Instead, a large amount of it is going to your digestive system, especially if you have recently eaten or had a drink. When riding, your legs need more blood since they are using more oxygen. Your body will constrict the blood vessels in your digestive system and dilate the blood vessels in your working muscles. This change takes time, and you can only ride at 100% aerobic capacity after this shift has occurred. It’s also why you don’t want to have a massive meal right before a hard effort.
    In addition to greater oxygen delivery, your working muscles’ increased circulation increases your body’s rate to clear metabolic byproducts.
  2. Psychology. Being mentally prepared for the race or workout ahead is a crucial factor in peak performance. A good warm-up routine gives time to focus on the coming training or race. It’s also shown that an adequate warm-up reduces the RPE of a given effort, which can increase time to exhaustion at that intensity or improve the intensity you can maintain for a set duration.
  3. Temperature. The human body is only about 25% efficient when converting internal energy into external work. The remaining 75% is converted almost entirely into heat. So riding at 250 Watts means your producing 750W of heat energy. That’s the same heat output as a standard toaster!
    Thankfully warmer muscles are actually more efficient and capable of producing greater force. Some studies have shown that efficiency can improve by 2-5% for every 1 degree Celcius above average body temperature. At warmer temperatures, the viscosity of your joints and ligaments decreases, meaning easier movement. We have almost all felt the opposite side of this when you are cold, and your joints feel “stiff.”
    The transportation of oxygen from your blood to your muscles is dependent on two proteins, hemoglobin, and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is in your blood, while myoglobin is in your muscles. Myoglobin will take the oxygen away from the hemoglobin, thus moving oxygen from your blood into your muscles. As your blood temperature increases, the ability to transfer oxygen from hemoglobin to myoglobin improves. The same shift happens as your blood becomes more acidic, another side effect of exercising.

It turns out the term. “warm-up” is more accurate than you might have thought! A large portion of the physiological benefits of a warm-up comes from higher internal temperatures.
Unfortunately, above certain temperatures, critical systems start to work against you, most notably blood flow. You can read more about the impact of overheating here. The main point here is that if competing in hotter temperatures, you should consider reducing the duration and intensity of your standard warm-up routine.

As far as what’s the best warm-up routine for you? Personally, my go-to warm-up is the same one used in Team Scream, which is something that took me quite a few years to dial in. Now that you know a bit more about why a warm-up is important, you’ll have an easier time finding the right one for you. If you do find a routine that works well for you, don’t be afraid to sub it in for a SUF session’s warm-up

25 Likes

Excellent thanks. I’ve been following a regime of GCN RSG before VO2 workouts since it was released and it does help. Nice to have the science behind it.
Now to check the warm up in Team Scream …

4 Likes

I’m sure I read that there were studies on performance benefits from cooling the body’s core temperature to allow the athlete to effectively perform longer before overheating started to kick in (might be wrong with my interpretation there).

How does that balance with warming up?

At an elite level (looking for those marginal gains), would an athlete warm up to get the benefits from your first point and then chug an ice drink or two in an attempt to quickly lower core temperature?

Or am I wildly off track? :thinking:

2 Likes

I almost always do Open 15 or RSG before a 'fest. Makes a massive difference. I find the warmups in most of the workouts are way too short for my physiology.

5 Likes

Nice @Coach.Mac.C , So, my question to all of you Sufferlandrians’ is: What’s your favorite warm up? What works best for you? Do you have a different warm up routine for different events/sessions. Come on, let’s here it…

@Coach.Jeff.H For me it is generally either Ignitor or GCN Ready, Steady, Go but on occasion I have also used GCN’s Max Efforts Minimum Time. I like all three Personally I find a separate warmup video makes a huge difference in how I feel and perform especially during the beginning of a prescribed workout.

@Coach.Mac.C Thanks for the in-depth explanation!

1 Like

Sometimes I wish these articles cited actual references instead of just saying ‘because science’!

1 Like

Thanks for the information @Coach.Mac.C.

I do the ‘Pre-Ride Activation’ yoga before Full Frontal, as I don’t find that warmup long enough. For most other workouts, the included warmup is (just) enough for me.

1 Like

@Coach.Jeff.H the warmup from Angels :grinning:

I like to foam roll before every session, helps get the blood flowing to my muscles and get rid of any tension.

1 Like

Actually I only warm-up within the SUF sessions itself. I’d fiigure most of them include a warm-up phase and that works good enough for me. Only when I do Full Frontal I do “Igniter” beforehand and that works too. To be honest I don’t know if I would stick with SUF if the in-session warm-ups weren’t working for me. Schedule is tight enough over the day and I would not find the extra time for a prolonged workout when there’s also a strength and a Yoga session on the menu for a given day, especially since the strength sessions get longer and longer when leveling up.

5 Likes

you need to differentiate between muscle temperature and core temperature. while a properly warmed up muscle is able to perform better, you need to make sure that the core won’t overheat. it’s possible to pre-cool your body and warm up your muscles at the same time, that’s why you often see the pros wearing a cooling vest while warming up.

5 Likes

I’m going to throw something different out there. I’ve been finding the “activation” yoga videos make a difference. Something light like “Mobilise the Joints” or “Basic Yoga Poses”.

4 Likes

This is probably the best review paper on the topic, it was the second main source for this post behind my Exercise Phys textbook. If a lot of you would like me to start adding individual sources throughout these posts let me know by linking this comment!

17 Likes

As a senior cyclist (69) I choose to do a bit extra before FF. maybe I should add more to,others.

I think you should do it just for completeness.

For instance: Kohlie doesn’t have references listed in the bottom for this, but he links them in the article itself which is fine too.

3 Likes

Yes to references, please!

Always like to look at original sources for myself.

2 Likes

Another vote for references please :smiley:

1 Like

great reference, was just gonna say, Periard and Racinais are among the best researchers in this field :+1:.
btw., Ückert and Joch produced one of the pioneer studies on pre-cooling, just in case anyone is interested. it’s open access

3 Likes