Often prematurely ended or forgotten altogether, two of the most important components of a proper workout are the warm up and the cool down. While most athletes recognize that warm-ups and cool downs provide some benefit, it seems they are more often than not considered a ‘lesser priority’ to the workout itself. Over the course of this and one other article we’ll discuss both the Warm Up and the Cool Down, and we’ll take a look at the benefits they provide and why they are so important for our training.
Athletes provide plenty of reasons for skipping their warm-up. Some time-constrained cyclists will transition right into their prescribed intervals after only a few minutes spinning the pedals, thinking they will get ‘more out of their workout’ if they can spend as much of their limited time going hard. Others say they are fit enough to not need one, or that they already ‘warmed up’ because they’ve been standing or walking at their job during the day.
Below are 5 reasons you should absolutely include a solid warm up into your training and racing routing. While some of these may seem more important than the others, it’s my belief that they are all equally essential. Just like everything else in cycling, it is the sum of all parts that brings about success.
1. Engages Body Systems
When you subject your body to intense physical activities, nearly every organ and system has to step up its game. Of course the major players like the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems must increase their workload, but it doesn’t stop there. Cells all over the body must transition to ‘work-mode’, creating more energy, regulating body temperature, supporting PH balance, and relocating body fluids. The process doesn’t happen all at once, and there’s a ‘spin-up period’. A proper warm-up allows these systems to activate gradually, on their own time.
2. Warms up tissue and fluids
Related to biological systems is the actual temperature of the tissues themselves. Perhaps you’ve been out in colder-than-normal temperatures without leg warmers–have you noticed the drop in power? The reduction in biomechanical fluency? Just like any other substance, as molecules cool they become slower and less responsive. And it’s not just the muscles that need to literally heat up–all of the tendons, ligaments, and fascia do, too. Allowing your tissues to warm up prevents injury and allows for more fluid movement.
3. Focus on Form
Form–pedaling technique and posture–is generally not something we think about on every ride. While in the middle of a hard 3-minute VO2 max interval, the last thing you are focusing on is form–all of your attention should be on putting out power and getting through the effort. It’s during these hard workouts and races that the body relies on muscle memory. Spending the first 15 minutes of a ride focusing on proper spinning technique and posture gives your body a ‘baseline’ for how it should operate. The fact is, even if you have good form at the beginning of the season, the body tends to get ‘sloppy’ as time goes by and the fatigue from the summer months builds up. A proper warm-up period gives you time to consider your posture and pedal stroke, and it prevents your body from learning bad habits.
4. Prepares the Mind for Workout or Race
It doesn’t matter how committed to cycling you are, there are other things going on in your life. Work, relationships, finances–they all present unique stressors to both mind and body. If you’re going out to hit some intervals, or especially if you’re preparing for a race, it’s important to transition the mind over to ‘suffer-mode’. If you’re mind has any reservations about going ‘all-out’, there’s a chance you won’t achieve maximum productivity in your intervals, or worse, you may not finish them at all.
5. Creates a Mental Habit
Sometimes the biggest roadblock to working out is just kitting-up and getting on the bike! If you can manage getting on the bike, the rest of the ride will usually come together. Think of your 15 minute warm up as ‘buffer time’–the calm before the storm. If you’re doing high-intensity training right from the start on every workout, after a while you will dread training sessions! When your routine is to do an easy spin for the first 15 minutes of a ride, it gets your mind into a ‘habit’ that you can trust. When your relaxing on the couch watching tv, it may just be the final ‘push’ to get you on the bike!
Warm Is Good
Fitness trends come and go, but the warm-up will always be integral to a proper workout. It’s clear why professionals have a well-established warm-up routine before each and every race! Your body needs it, your mind needs it, and, ultimately, it will make you a better athlete!