Pre-Race Trainer Warm-up

By James Herrera, USA Cycling National BMX Coach

The concept behind a proper race warm-up is for you to engage and activate all energy systems, effectively priming the system and preparing for the hard work to come. Your warm-up should ideally be performed on a trainer in an environment free of typical pre-race distractions. Once you put your bike on the trainer, pop the headphones in, and hit the play button on your iPod, stay focused on the task at hand. Remember to fuel and hydrate through your warm-up. A proper warm-up is a huge step towards ensuring a strong race performance. The initial surge from the start line or early attacks and corners in a race that cause huge influxes of lactic acid will make or break your event.
Energy Systems targeted:

  1. Aerobic
  2. Lactate threshold (LT)
  3. VO2 (maximal oxygen consumption)
Steps involved with set up:

  1. Set your trainer up on relatively flat ground and raise the front wheel using a track block or whatever you can find in order to level the bike.
  2. Position your trainer so you can see the race start line if possible. You never know when last minute changes may occur that will cause your start to shift to an early or later time.
  3. Insure that your rear skewer is secure in the clamp mechanism as you will be standing and sitting periodically throughout the warm up.
  4. You may choose to remove your jersey or use another jersey for your warm up as the lack of moving air will cause you to slightly overheat.
  5. Keep food and fluid close by. Nibble and sip as you move through your warm up, keeping in mind that your warm up will have a metabolic cost: i.e. you will be burning calories at a greater rate than at rest. Keep yourself topped off to insure adequate pre-race fueling.
  6. Remember to shift heavy and stand throughout your warm up. You need circulation in the nether region and you don’t want things going to sleep on you.
  7. Allow yourself time to use the restroom throughout the course of your warm up. Race nerves and adequate hydration will almost always have you looking for the porta-potty a few times during the hour before a race start.
  8. Have a teammate or team director remain aware of last minute changes or updates that may affect the course of your event: i.e. debris on the course, route changes, start time fluctuations, feed zone/pit areas, etc.
  9. Complete your warm up as close to start time as possible, allowing yourself a few final minutes to hit the restroom, towel off, change jerseys if necessary, and put fresh bottles on your bike.
The Routine
  • Begin with 5 minutes of neutral, light geared spinning to get the blood flowing
  • Sets 1 & 2 will consist of a joint warm up for the ankles, knees, and hips
    • Using light resistance, increase your cadence 30 seconds at a time for 3 intervals of time, finishing with a 4th set of the highest cadence you can hold without bouncing in the saddle.
      • Interval 1: 30 seconds of neutral cadence
      • Interval 2: 30s + 5-10 rpm
      • Interval 3: 30s + 5-10 rpm
      • Interval 4: 15s quickest cadence without bouncing in the saddle
    • Increase 1 gear heavy and perform a 2nd set using similar guidelines as set 1
  • Now shift into a comfortable gear and ride into your aerobic/endurance pace. Get your breathing deep, steady, and rhythmic. This should feel like your cruising pace for a relatively long ride. Spend approximately 1-3 minutes at this pace. We’re looking at approximately a 65-70% aerobic effort, a 4-5 out of 10 on a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale.
    • Using this load (no gear changes), you will perform 3 x 10s accelerations/surges, with 30s of aerobic pace between efforts.
      • Interval 1: surge for 10s, go back to aerobic pace for 30s
      • Interval 2: surge for 10s, go back to aerobic pace for 30s
      • Interval 3: surge for 10s, go back to aerobic pace for 30s
  • The next 2 sets will move on with warming up the muscles
    • Begin with light to moderate resistance, and gradually increase the load 30 seconds at a time, maintaining a comfortable leg speed
      • Interval 1: 30s of neutral cadence at moderate load
      • Interval 2: 30s + 1-2 gears heavy
      • Interval 3: 30s + 1-2 gears heavy
      • Interval 4: 30s + 1-2 gears heavy (should be slightly difficult)
    • Perform a 2nd set, using 45s per gear
      • With each shift, stand for 15s, then sit for 30s
  • Ride at your aerobic/endurance (cruising) pace for 1-3 minutes
    • The endurance time utilized here depends exclusively on the overall length of your warm up: i.e. shorter warm ups should use the 1min guideline, longer versions should use the 3min time.
  • The next and final objective will be to perform an Energy System ramp up, insuring you’ve activated each system appropriately.
    • Following your 1-3min aerobic/endurance pace effort, shift 1-2 gears heavy, accelerate your leg speed, and build into a sub-LT pace. Your breathing will become slightly shorter and quicker than your endurance effort, but should be below climbing (LT) intensity. Other terms for this zone that you may have heard for this exertion level are

Zone 3, E3, and Steady State. This is a 75-80% aerobic effort, 6-7/10 on a perceived exertion scale. Spend 1-3 minutes at your E3 pace, as dictated by the overall length of your warm up.
  • Following your E3 effort, you will build to LT (climbing intensity) by shifting 1-2 gears heavy and elevating your pace to an 85-90% aerobic effort, 8/10 RPE, and short, quick, rhythmic breathing that is synchronized with your pedal strokes. Only spend 1-2 minutes at this pace as dictated by the length of your warm up.
  • Following your climb, bring it back to an E2 (endurance/aerobic) pace and ride for 1-3 minutes. Now you will start the final ramping set for your race.
    • Bring it back up to your E3 (sub-LT, Zone 3, Steady State) pace for 1-3 minutes.
    • Move into an E4 (LT, climbing pace, Zone 4) effort of 1-2 minutes, possibly shifting heavy and standing to accelerate your gear.
  • Topping it all off, you will perform a series of 2-3 VO2 efforts (openers) of 20s to 1min based on fitness level, years experience, and your own unique physiology. Some people do better with 30s openers, while more advanced and conditioned riders need a full minute to activate the VO2 system. More novice riders or those not used to a structured warm up protocol such as this should begin by using the 20-30s timeframe, and progressively increasing if they feel the need for more of a VO2 system activation. Take a minimum of 3-5x the recovery time of the VO2 effort in between ensuing efforts: i.e. If you do a 30s VO2, take 1:30-2:30min full recovery (light easy spinning) before performing your next effort. A minimum of 2, and maximum of 5 openers should be used, once again based on your level of conditioning and unique physiology. Ideally this is something you will experiment with during training, and not use it for the first time on race day.
  • These VO2 efforts are designed to get the lactic acid buffering process kicked into overdrive, and expect that flood of lactic acid that will occur seconds to minutes into your race. If performed properly, it will feel normal, rather than painful, to make that first surge and be in the race rather than dangling off the back.
  • Make sure there is a final 3-5x VO2 recovery time taken before you hop off your trainer and perform any last minute details before jumping on the start line.
Minute Drill Cadence Load RPE (1-10)
0-5 easy spin neutal light 1-2
5-9 cadence build +5-10 rpm light 3-5
9-12 E2 (endurance) neutral med 4
12-14 10s jumps/30s E2 neutral to quick med 4-7
14-19 muscle loading neutral to slow med - high 5-8
19-21 E2 neutral med 4
21-24 E3 (zone 3, sub LT) neutral to +5 rpm med 6
24-26 E4 (LT, climbing) neutral med+ 8
26-29 E2 neutral med 4
29-32 `E3 neutral to +5 rpm med 6
32-34 E4 neutral med+ 9
34-34:30 VO2 high med+ 10
34:30-37 E1 (full recover) low light 1-2
37-37"30 VO2 high med+ 10
37:30-40 E1 low light 1-2
40-40:30 VO2 high med+ 10
40:30-43 E1 low light 1-2