Best Race Warm-Up for 60-Minute Races

Racing has finally started locally with my first opportunity to race a crit this week. I’m interested to hear what warm ups are recommended for events lasting in the range of 60 minutes. Typically I’ve been concerned about wasting energy during the warm up which has bitten me a couple of times when they’ve started really quickly.

I’ve just relistened to where it was suggested that priming the aerobic system with a bout of high intensity work above FTP to raise lactate levels significantly during warm up, which return to a level between 3-5mmol/L at race start provided an improvement in race performance. As there are different protocols which can result in raised lactate levels, I’d be interested in hearing what warm ups are recommend.

1 Like

@PeteD Hello, really glad to hear you are getting around to some racing!

There are a variety of warm-ups that work for people, here is a version of what I use for mountain bike which would likely would well for you with something that starts hard.

I really like a good endurance warm-up, the fitter the athlete the longer this piece. Sometimes the more nervous the athlete the longer this piece as I find once they are on their bike they come to peace and just start to focus on the task.

I would say that you need at least 20min of endurance riding here and more possibly 30min.

I would do the first 10-15m very, very easy starting at 50% of max heart rate and gradually building to 70% (without any muscular fatigue). Let the cadence and power come into the legs, but then ride at a smooth, comfortably high cadence once you feel ready.

I then usually do a series of micro interval builds.

4-5m of 15s Hard/15s Easy - I never apply a power target, just do each one a little harder with the goal of being able to notice the breathing by the end. These should be around 7/10 RPE.

equal time of riding easy to what you chose above.

6-8m of 30s Hard/30s Easy - Here I would use your current 5-6m power for the ON and 40-50% of that for the OFF.

equal time of riding easy to what you chose above.

4m of 30s Hard/30s Easy straight into 5m of what your goal pace is going to be - try and mimic the start of the race here.

Then easy riding as close to possible to race start. This piece I really like to be less than 10m and keep moving as close to race start as the event allows.

Good luck and this is one warm-up you could try.


Thanks for the detailed response @steveneal, I’ll give this a go this week. I would have avoided a warm up like this in the past so interested to see how it goes.

1 Like

@PeteD start drinking your race drink as soon as you start to pedal in this warm-up

1 Like

Thanks @steveneal! I’ll add in my short track XC warm-up to add some variety and show how individual these things can be.

In a warm-up study I published in grad school, we used 3 different groups - a “no warm-up” group, a “steady” warm-up group, and an “interval” warm-up group with on/off efforts similar to Steve’s routine. One thing we found was that it would have been better for certain athletes to do no warm-up at all rather than go too hard or not rest enough after the final interval. If you can use power numbers to guide you, that’s a good way to make sure you aren’t overcooking yourself before the start. I tend to let the leg sensations dictate my warm-up and use power to confirm that things are good, better, or worse than expected. So that has always guided my warm-up routine as roughly:

15-20 minutes of easy riding by feel making sure that my HR is generally below threshold.

5-10 minutes of a ramp (ideally on the course) where I can build in some tempo/sub-LT organically based on the terrain.

3-5 big gear efforts from a low cadence. Sometimes I’ll precede this with a couple low-cadence drills to get the legs moving. Other times I’ll just go into some seated accelerations until the legs are spinning nicely.

10-15 minutes of riding on the course to practice skills and visualization. This would include some short efforts of 10-30 seconds to test the legs on various segments of the course.

1-2 high speed sprints to finish up.

~10 minutes of easy riding and moving around before the start.

The whole thing will take about 60-75 minutes for a short race.

Good luck with your crit this week, @PeteD!

1 Like

Great discussion. I’ve often wondered about this too as it sometimes seems a fine line between not warming up enough vs. doing something too fatiguing. I finally also aligned on easy pedaling for 20 minutes plus a few efforts, then some off-the-bike coordination drills (like walking toe-touches, helicopter lunges)–looks silly but helps me get all the muscles firing.

One question for @ryan–have you ever seen people have trouble guiding their warmup by heart rate because of being too jacked up before races? I mean i don’t know about you guys but i’ll sometimes be middle of zone 1 on the starting line, and as the countdown starts, my heart rate goes higher! If i’m riding on the trainer doing a recovery ride at 115 bpm, if i accidentally start visualizing a race, i can see it climb up to 145 if i’m not careful. Final example, i’ve run 5Ks where the post-race data said that only 17 seconds of the race were outside of zone 5 because the HR shot up so fast.

Needless to say i don’t have any trouble getting amped.


@BikerBocker, thanks for mentioning those off-bike drills! I think those are an excellent component to warm-up and can help you feel fully prepared to move back on the bike.

To your question about guiding the warm-up by HR, yes, I think you can get into trouble if you rely solely on HR during your warm-up and don’t understand that it may be elevated pre-race. Ultimately, on a race day I expect to see that higher HR, and try to balance it with the sensations in the legs and mental readiness. So if the HR is a little higher than normal, but I see it coming with really good sensations in the legs, that’s ok. It signals that things are ready to go.

If it’s a high HR with other nervous feelings, almost that butterfly feeling or jittery, then I’ll work to use visualization or breathing techniques to calm that down and really help focus the energy that the body is just “misplacing” for lack of a better word.

1 Like

Hi @ryan, that’s interesting that you found that some athletes would be better off with no warm up. Any thoughts on what the reasons may be? Would fitness levels , type of athletes ( high Vlamax v low Vlamax) or type of events play a part?

Thanks for the warm up suggestions, plenty of things to experiment with over the next few weeks.

@PeteD, sure. So that conclusion came about within the group because we had a specific time frame from the end of warm-up to the start of the first trial. With the athletes that went too hard (e.g., interval warm-up), that relatively short time frame was likely too short to allow for lactate levels to return to baseline, so we were asking them to go maximally again after inadequate recovery from previous efforts.

Unfortunately we didn’t measure lactate or ventilatory metrics in the warm-up (HR only) and the trials were Wingate tests, so we were only looking at power data. I do think that in certain athletes (maybe fitness levels, maybe pacing strategy, VLamax, all great options) there would be specific protocols that would be more (or less) suited to their needs relative to some of those parameters. We also did not measure any sort of recovery or assess readiness on those days, so there could have been an athlete that was cooked and had a pretty poor HR response. Since we were assessing intensity of the warm-up as a % of HR max, they may have been pedaling way too hard in an effort to get that HR to rise, putting out a lot more power when they just didn’t have it in the legs.

@steveneal @ryan Bit of feedback on the warm up from this week. I tried Steve’s suggestion but had to drop some of the final 30/30’s due to time constraints. I felt good through the warm up just letting the power come as I worked through the set. Race started pretty hard but I felt well in control early. Stayed with front group for 20 mins but couldn’t hang with them up the short climb. finished in the top 10 which was probably a fair reflection on my fitness compared to the leading group at the moment. Got an Xert breakthrough so overall pretty happy with first hit out of the year. Thanks again.

1 Like

Nice work, and congrats on the breakthrough and top 10 finish! It’s nice to see where you are with the first race of the year like that. :+1:

@PeteD congrats! Glad the warmup seemed to help, or at least not hinder.

@steveneal @ryan What is your take on how long the effects of a warm up last? I’ve read several studies (it would take me a while to find them now) showing it may not last more than 5-15 minutes if standing around after, say in a call-up scenario. I coach a youth DEVO team of which one component is a NICA team. At our races in MN fields are huge. Staging in corrals for call-ups and call ups take 20-30 minutes, in MN, in Sept/Oct (cold). We generally have the kids warm up for a host of psychological and good practice reasons, but I’ve long questioned if there is any physiological benefit left by the time they start.

@pgreehan Hi … I am not one for studies…more for real life practice over 32 years of racing.

I worked with many athletes 16-23 years old for over half that time.

Are you able to keep them in the shade warming up on a trainer? Having someone else hold their race bike on the start line? So they can show up within 5-8m?

That was always my goal, 5-8m from last effort to the start of the race. Always worked pretty well for us.

None of that is really possible. (We could warm up on trainers). The MN NICA league has this completely out of our control. They need to be pre-staging 20 minutes prior to their race. Then they get staged. All in all it’s about 30 minutes after the conclusion of any warm-up, and it’s usually chilly out as well. Only racers are allowed in the start chute.
For what it’s worth, I think there is a definite psychological benefit to doing it for most of the kids. But, after watching them shiver for so long, I seriously question if there is any physiological benefit.


I agree with everything you are saying.

This is a case where it is time to start collecting data and forming a letter to make the racing better and safer for the kids involved.

Two examples.

In Canada many years ago, the cadet and junior ( and to be honest elite ) races were much too long. In order to prep your athletes to make the national team and just get to worlds, they weren’t prepared for the speed and duration of the actual races at worlds.

I gathered data from them about 5 years of euro country race durations of the same age, as well as the world’s times, and presented this to our provincial and national level performance committees.

The following season the races were shortened which had many benefits across many levels.

In another sport I train athletes in, motocross they athletes have to wait with their bike at the start line. This is currently being looked at as the riders have their helmets on, full equipment and in many hot days in that sport it is not ideal. They are looking at changing these rules so the rider could have someone else put the bike in the start spot, and warm-up under a tent and be better prepared to start a race.

You are on the right track, time to present your ideas to everyone at the top, change this waiting game and find a better way than standing around for 20-30m before every event.

Before these changes were made, I would have my athletes warm-up properly and just start at the back, they still made it to top 3-10 place which allowed them to progress as they needed.

They go to work on warm-ups, polite and proper passing, being patient, and finishing strong as many started to blow up in the latter half of the races.

Thanks Steve. I appreciate the detailed response! I also think we are on the same page. Sadly, this has been presented to the league, but racing politics being what it often is, things are unlikely to change. It stinks for the kids, but most of them don’t really notice or care. The ones that do care race plenty outside of NICA so have plenty of opportunities to do things better.

1 Like

@pgreehan I know @steveneal and @ryan have given some great advice above on warm ups for short races which I’ve started to implement during recent races. If you are having difficulty implementing your ideal warm up due to the logistical restrictions it may be worth going back to my original post where I mentioned that priming the aerobic system with high intensity has been shown to improve race performance via improved Vo2 kinetics and being on the start line with elevated lactate levels in the range of 3-5mmol/L. As an example after a maximal 20sec effort my lactate levels ( Vlamax of ~0.5) were still above 5mmol/L after sitting still for 20 minutes. I’m not suggesting you need to start lactate testing your athletes or whether it’s even ethical at the their ages but they may be able to gain some benefit with this type of max effort 20-30 mins before race start. If you have a few athletes racing could you try something similar with some of them and see if you notice any differences?


Thanks Pete. In essence that is what we do. A spin with a few quick efforts.