Grant Harrison, M.S.E., Source Endurance
With the road racing season underway, competitors are doing all they can to gain an advantage. Athletes will put in hundreds of miles per week and spend thousands of dollars on gear, equipment, etc. that will help affect their performance, but when when it comes to race day, the race starts hours before the gun goes off. There are many facets of race preparation, but one that should never be overlooked is the warm-up protocol.
I have asked many athletes what they do for a warm-up on race day and the typical response indicates very little, if any, structure. For something that seems to be an important factor in performance, one would think people would spend more time fine-tuning the warm-up process; however, there are many factors that come into play. The duration of the warm-up as well as the intensity play a significant role in optimally priming your body for performance. Many times, there are environmental factors as well.
In looking at the research, there is an array of findings that seems to depend on the duration and intensity of the warm-up and the recovery period after the warm-up, but also the duration and intensity of the ensuing effort.
A somewhat recent study by Hajoglou, Foster, De Koning, Lucia, Kernozek, and Porcari (2005) compared the performance of a non-warm-up group, an easy warm-up group, and a hard warm-up group in a 3K time trial. The easy and hard warm-ups each spent three minutes at 70%, 80%, and 90% of power at ventilatory threshold (VT), but the hard warm-up added a final stage of a power output equal to the respiratory compensation point (RCP). It was not noted what percent this would be compared to VT. Additionally, the hard warm-up allowed for six minutes of recovery after the warm-up, whereas the easy warm-up allowed for only three minutes.
The trials showed that the hard warm-up resulted in a greater power output across the first 500 meters. This makes sense because the athletes had adequately prepared themselves for a more intense effort. Consequently, the easy warm-up group did better across the next 1,000 meters of the time trial.
In analyzing the overall effort, however, the easy and hard warm-ups elicited better time trial times than the non warm-up group, but were not significantly different from one another in time to completion. In closing, this article contends that the benefit of the warm-up is due to the augmentation of aerobic metabolism, rather than the sparing of anaerobic energy stores.
In comparing these two warm-ups, they are very similar in type and structure. It would be great to compare several different types and lengths of warm-ups to see which one elicits the best performances.
A separate study looking at a traditional track cycling warm-up versus a shortened and less intense warm-up compared conditions in a 200-meter sprint (Tomaras and MacIntosh, 2011). In this study, the modified or easier warm-up group performed significantly better than the traditional warm-up. This finding further supports the fact that there is an optimal duration and intensity — at least for a 200-meter sprint performance.
Taking all of this into consideration, we want to be able to identify on a per-person and per-event-type basis, the ideal type of warm-up.
In short it, depends on many factors, but some guidelines could be established that may guide an individual in the right direction.
- If the race is to be of long duration and varying intensity, it would be beneficial to prime the aerobic pathways by warming up. The aerobic efficiencies created from an aerobic warm-up will always help you earlier in the aerobic type effort, even if it doesn’t help you later. It’s a good thing anytime an athlete can burn fat as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates.
- If the event is to have an anaerobic or high-power-type component, it would prove to be beneficial to have an equal type effort in the warm-up. However, the duration of the warm-up or number of hard efforts during the warm-up could also lead to a performance decrement. Also, the harder the warm-up effort, the more recovery time may be necessary before one should begin the race.
- In general, the warm-up should seek to reach a level of exertion or other physiological parameter that is very similar to the event to follow. At a certain point, though, more warming up seems to have no effect or even a diminishing effect on the following event’s performance.
- As mentioned before, there are also environmental factors that can play a role in a warm-up, particularly temperature. If temperatures are too cold, it may prove to be beneficial to introduce some higher-intensity work to keep body temperature up and increase blood flow to the muscles. Conversely, a warm-up could be less intense in an effort to re-direct blood-flow to the muscles and less towards skin tissue.
All of these factors aside, it is imperative to establish a warm-up routine that is not only specific to the type of event, but one that adequately prepares the body without diminishing the ensuing performance. For the most part, the warm-ups for a road race, criterium, cyclo-cross, track cycling, and time trial race should each have differences as each demand is different. It comes down to knowing how you plan to warm-up and what your body needs to perform the best. This process may take a while to develop, but with intention and direction, it could make a big difference on race day.
Hajoglou, A., Foster, C., De Koning, J. J., Lucia, A.. Kernozek, T. W, and Porcari. J. P., 2005. Effect of Warm-Up on Cycle Time Trial Performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 37, No. 9, pp. 1608–1614.
Tomaras, E.K. and MacIntosh, B.R., 2011. Less is more: standard warm-up causes fatigue and less warm-up permits greater cycling power output. Journal of Applied Physiology 111:228-235.