Improve your performance with a proper warmup and cooldown

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At this point, many of you have probably pined a number or two to a jersey and raced. By now, you should have a good idea of what you need to take with you in your race bag (if not, click here for a race checklist), and hopefully it’s been at least a little while since someone clued you in on not wearing under-roos beneath your cycling shorts.

You’ve spent money on equipment, coaching, nutritional advice, etc., yet are you getting the most out of your performance? If you knew that you could improve your cycling by 3% and increase the likelihood of winning an event, you’d do it, right?

While there are a million general rules of thumb you could apply to becoming a better rider, there are two things that can help you with that top 3% of improvement: your warmup and your cooldown.

Why focus on a warmup?

A proper warmup promotes blood flow to your legs by increasing your muscle and body temperature. By warming up, you dilate your blood vessels, improve your range of emotion and can mentally prepare for the effort at hand. Your warmup should be specific to the type of race your about to do – whether that be a road race, crit, time trial, short track, endurance mountain bike race, etc.

Ivy Audrian of Hagens Berman -Supermint warming up before stage 3 of the Redlands Classic.
Ivy Audrian of Hagens Berman -Supermint warming up before stage 3 of the Redlands Classic.

A sample warmup protocol:

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on crits. At ALP Cycles we prescribe the following warmup protocol:

  • Total crit warmup time: 38 minutes
    • 10 minutes in zone 1/2, easy spinning
    • 3 x 1 minute high cadence (110+ rpms) with 1 minute of easy riding between.
    • 2 minutes zone 3
    • 1 minute easy
    • 4 minutes zone 3
    • 1 minute easy
    • 2 minutes at functional threshold power
    • 2 minutes easy
    • 30 seconds HARD
    • 5 minutes easy

The cooldown:

Lizzie Armitstead and her Boels Dolmans teammates cool down after a race.

After you complete your race, you should immediately start thinking about your cool down (also sometimes called the ‘warm down’) as a way to aid recovery.

Post-race go for an easy recovery spin or hook up to the trainer. Your perceived exertion should be a 3 or less out of 10, with a cadence between 80-100. Easy cool down rides help you recover from the race more quickly and allows you to train again in a shorter amount of time. If you can grab a recovery drink (with a 3:1 to 5:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio) and sip it while you cool down, even better. Cool downs should last anywhere between 15-20 minutes.

Good luck out there!


ALP Cycles Coaching alpcycleslogo - edited is a Boulder-based coaching company with three female coaches at the helm: Alison Powers, Jennifer Sharp and Patricia Schwager.

Each coach brings her own coaching strengths and personal experiences. Roading racing, track, endurance mountain biking, time trialling, making the leap to living and racing in Europe – they’ve got you covered. Find out more about Alison Powers and her Alp Cycles coaching company at here.

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