How to Warm Up for a Hard Workout

A warm up can make or break your workout experience. Not only will a good warm up make it safer for you to dig deep in your workout, it can also help you go faster, and feel better.

I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten on the bike feeling fatigued from a previous workout only to warm up and produce some of my best workouts to date. It has happened enough times to remind me to never judge a book by its cover…or a workout by its warm up. Even if I feel really poor and feel like I won’t be able to achieve anything on the bike, I’ll always put in a good warm up before making my final analysis. Sometimes a good warm up is all you need for a good day.

Why Warm Up?

Warming up helps to prepare your heart, lungs, and muscles for the workout ahead. It helps to increase circulation, increase body temperature, increase the heart rate, as well as increase blood flow to muscles. It can help prevent injury as well as provides a time to mentally prepare for the workout.

All of these things might sound insignificant on paper, but in my experience, the simple translation is that warming up well can make you feel better and faster when it comes time to start the workout.

Warm Up Strategies:

Every athlete has his or her specific warm up plan that can only be established with trial and error. It’s important to practice your warm up just like anything else. Before each hard workout try a different warm up strategy and see which one sticks. Once you find a warm up that works well for you, continue to use it before hard workouts and races and soon your body might associate that preparation with hard efforts. Here are a few warm up strategies that I like to incorporate into my routine:

Easy Spin:

It’s important to start each warm up with an easy spin or at an easy intensity. If you set too strict of parameters at the start of the warm up then you defeat part of the purpose of the warm up. Begin at an easy intensity to give your body the chance to adapt to the exercise. Allow yourself the freedom to fall into any pace that feels comfortable on that day and don’t be overly concerned about what speed that is.

Note: It’s easy to get caught up in what a warm up ‘normally’ feels like or how fast you ‘usually’ go. Resist the urge to judge your readiness based on how you feel when you first get on the bike. 

Warm Up Photo

Build Intensity:

After you’ve spent some time easing into your ride, begin to build the intensity. I like to do this by spending a few minutes in each of my training zones. I might spend a bit longer in the easier zones (such as tempo) and only a minute or two in zones at or above FTP. I almost always finish my warm up with 1 minute at race pace or interval pace. Then if I still feel like a need a little extra I’ll add on a couple of 10 second sprints. As silly as it may sound, don’t forget to spin out your legs after your warm up.

High Cadence Drills:

Another element that I often include in my warm up routine is high cadence drills. I will spin in an easy gear at 100+ RPMs. These types of efforts get my muscles moving, my leg speed ready, and increase my heart rate. The easier gear, however, allows me to feel fresher when I start my intervals since I didn’t overload my legs by pushing big gears in the warm up.

Mentally Prepare:

The warm up also serves as your final opportunity to mentally prepare for the hard work ahead. Try to use the warm up to visualize success and to give yourself a pep talk. You are strong. You got this!

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