A common theme among those who are looking to improve their bike performance is the limitation of time. Spending hours on the bike tends to take up the bulk of whatever time we have to train, and – unless you are a professional athlete – work and life usually consume whatever time is reamaining.
The advent and regular inclusion of indoor bike trainers has helped in this regard, but many athletes – especially recreational – are still strapped for time. And thus, just jumping right on to the bike is usually the first step in starting a training session. Nevermind, whatever comes before or after the turbo trainer session.
However, when this happens, one of the most beneficial aspects of performance training is missed: the warm-up (or movement prep). While time in the saddle understandably takes precedence over most other aspects of performance, the warm-up itself can serve as its own micro-training session, not only to prepare for the hard work ahead that day, but also to aggregate marginal gains over time.
If you are not already including a warm-up or daily “prep routine” within your training plan, today we will discuss three major reasons why you should.
1. Preparation for the Work Ahead
It may seem like a given, but the most beneficial and acute benefits of a warm-up are the ways in which they prepare you for the work ahead. To be fair, most cyclists will do a fairly specific warm-up for their session – ramping up on the bike prior to a hard session or ride. However, many will forego a more generalized line of prep that comes before hopping on the saddle, and in the form of a more dynamic and diverse movement prep.
While biking is a highly specific activity predominantly involving the heart, lungs, and legs, the entire body in general stands to benefit from being primed and prepped for the work ahead. First and foremost, raising core body temperature is fast and efficient when multiple body segments and muscle groups are involved (and more will be involved off of the bike than on it). Additionally, circulation of blood and oxygen is enhanced through the warm-up process.
But, even more beneficial are the acute changes in Range of Motion and tissue compliance that occur with some active, multi-planar movement off of the bike. In other words, the lower-back, hips, and shoulders will be more loose – for lack of a better term – and limber for action on the bike. This is important on the trainer of course, but it is even more critical on the road or trail when the terrain (and your response to it) are less predictable.
In other words, we are putting ourselves at risk of injury (or, in the very least, poor performance) on, say, a descent on the Mountain Bike when we have yet to move through a given range of motion prior to hopping on a bike; you would hate to have the first real stretch of your posterior chain be as you sick back behind the saddle on a big drop; it also wouldn’t feel great for your ankles to take their first significant absorption of force as your body braces when landing from that drop.
Not only do we want the tissues to be ready, but so too do we want the nervous system primed. Hop on the bike slow and lethargic, and you will be sure to start your ride that way, both mentally and physically in terms of performance output.
The warm-up isn’t just about increasing transient ranges of motion, but it is also about getting the neuromuscular units (where the nerves interact with the muscles, telling them to fire fast and powerfully) ready to be strong, powerful, and reactive. Concluding a warm-up with several explosive movements before clipping in might just be the “priming” your nervous system needs to fire at its fastest in your training session.
2. Micro-Dosing Marginal Gains
In addition to the acute impact that a warm-up routine can have on that day’s performance, taking prep time seriously has further-reaching value as well. Physical limitations such as mobility restrictions, motor control deficiencies, and trunk instability are all areas that tend to benefit from high frequency training.
In other words, addressing these qualities often provides an additive and compounding effect. Thus, rather than completing a mobility session or a “core” workout as their own blocks every now and again, your pre-session warm-up can serve as a daily micro-dose of whatever areas you most need to address.
It just so happens that many of the things we need to do to prepare ourselves for a training session are the very things that can help us improve physical limitations, whether they be rate limiters of biking performance, or limiters caused by biking itself (such as the effects of being in trunk flexion for long durations).
3. Saving Time
We will continue with a consistent theme from our discussion on the warm-up: short and long-term benefits of incorporating the practice – in this case, when it comes to saving time.
As noted in the previous section, conducting a full-body warm-up prior to hopping on the bike kills two birds with one stone: it prepares you for that day’s session while also exposing you to daily micro-doses of training stress (such as hip mobility). This two-for-one saves time on the back end, of course.
But, what consistently performing a whole-body warm-up prior to training can also do is help prevent injury during training. Nothing wastes training time more than not being able to train — being sidelined with an injury.
Think big picture: spending 3-5 or 10 minutes per day preparing for a training session is more than worth the time if it can help us avoid weeks-long injuries and whatever time it takes to regain the fitness lost during the shutdown. It is all about “slowing down to speed up”.