How to Warm Up for the Weather

by Isaac Neff - 5Nines Motorless Motion Off-Road Team

Last weekend, my teammate Corey Stelljes and I raced the Wisconsin State Cyclocross Championship. In 2013, the temperature was 12ish degrees (Fahrenheit) and the ground was super hard. This year we met with (just) above freezing temps and frozen ground with a thawing top layer.

Cyclocross is an interesting cycling discipline in a lot of ways, but one of the most interesting and difficult aspects is the varying conditions that we race in. Early season races can be hot and dry, late season can be freezing cold and sloppy muddy. These changing conditions can mean all kinds of changes to how we approach a race. We often talk about tires and pressure, chain lube, and of course what clothes to wear. But one thing that often gets overlooked is our warm-ups and cool-downs.

I think it is important to adapt your warm-up for the conditions. For example, for an early season race that is fast and dry I will warm-up differently than a race like the 2013 Wisconsin State Championships when it was 12 degrees.

First thing I always do at a cross race is get the bikes set-up and try to get out on the course for a lap or two to dial in tire pressure and tire selection.

After the pre-ride is done, and about an hour before the start of the race, I’ll hop on my trainer or rollers. A note: when selecting a trainer or pair of rollers make sure they feature progressive resistance that will allow you to do efforts properly. I usually use my SportCrafters Omnium Trainer because it has enough resistance and fits in the car with all my other gear.

Here are a couple examples of different warm-ups I will use depending on the day and its condition:

Hot/Dry Conditions:

  • 10-20min at endurance pace, enough to get the legs loosened up
  • 2 x 2 progressively harder efforts, going from endurance pace to Vo2 max. 4-5min easy between sets
  • 5min at endurance pace
  • 3x20sec all out sprints with only a 1min or so between, just enough to bring down the heartrate
  • Finish with 2-4mins of spinning easy
  • And then head to the line!

This is only a 30-40min warm-up. Any longer in warmer conditions and you’ll get too warm and dehydrated. In these conditions, your body is already warm and you just need to get the legs ready to race. The more intense efforts will get you ready for the explosive nature of a warm weather cross race.

In colder conditions I will extend my warm-up to 45-1hr. Often I will hop on the trainer right after I get back from my pre-ride laps to keep warm.

Cold Conditions:

  • 20min warm-up at endurance pace
  • 3x2 increasingly effort intervals, 5min easy (harder if getting cold) between  
  • 3x20sec “spin-ups” I try to do 125+ RPMs, 2-3mins off between efforts, not necessary to do these all out, more about the spin than the effort.  
  • End with another 10-15mins spinning. Head to the line!

After the race, in warm weather particularly, it is very important to “cool down”: spend 15-20mins on the trainer spinning easily. This will help your body start recovering from the effort of racing. Just don’t forget to eat something while you cool down!

Another key to cold weather warm-ups is: do not warm-up in your clothes you will race in. You will get sweaty and then you will get cold at the start line! Also dress warmer than you think you need to after you hop off the trainer and head to the start line: you want to keep yourself warm before the start.

Warming up correctly will get you ready to go off the line fast and keep the muscles going the whole time. My warm-up seemed to work on Saturday and I was able to take home the State Championship!

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