WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
Warming up is essential to prepare your body and mind to perform at its very best, especially when you are facing a hard effort such as a race or an interval session. Not doing so will normally compromise your performance.
A good rule of thumb is that the shorter and more explosive an event is, the longer a warm-up needs to be. Before an all-out effort such as track sprint, riders may spend more than an hour building up to the race.
For events such as time trials, shorter circuit road races, XC mountain bike and cyclocross events, a warm-up will typically be in the 20-40 minutes range.
SHOULD STRETCHING BE PART OF MY WARM UP
The consensus is that static stretching before exercise does not prevent injury or enhance performance. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that static stretching may be detrimental to the rider. A warm-up should prepare the body for the range and type of movement that the activity demands. A rugby player may use bounding and dynamic twists but, for a cyclist, the most appropriate type of warm-up is on the bike.
DO I NEED TO WARM UP BEFORE A SPORTIVE ?
Typically the first 10-20 minutes of a sportive will be spent progressively building up to your intended pace or intensity, there is no physiological reason for you to do a specific warm-up. That said, you may still benefit from a systematic warm-up as it will help prepare your mind for the event. For example, it may help relax you, reduce adrenalin levels and help prevent you starting too fast. Additionally, if there’s a testing climb straight from the start, you will benefit from warming-up. Of course, with many larger events, because of the sheer number of riders, you won’t have any choice but to start off slow until the crowds thin out.
WHY COOL DOWN
A cool down helps return your body to its pre-exercise state and will aid recovery and adaptation processes. It should be viewed as the first step to preparing your body for your next training session, race or event.
HOW LONG ?
As with warming-up, higher intensity efforts require longer cool downs to return the body to its pre-exercise state. As a rule, enough time should be taken to progressively bring the heart rate down to near resting levels while still turning your legs over. This will typically take 5-10 minutes and should ideally be factored into the end of every ride.
SHOULD STRETCHING BE PART OF MY WARM UP ?
Surprisingly, mainly due to the difficulties in constructing valid studies, there is no clear consensus on whether stretching as part of a cool-down is effective in reducing injury and enhancing recovery or not. What flexibility work does address is a heightened sensitivity in the muscle to ranges of movement beyond those which you experience when sat on your bike or at your desk. This perceived tightness, if left unaddressed, can easily lead to imbalances, poor muscle function and potentially pain or injury.
You may find that your body has become stiff after being in a fixed position on the bike for hours and stretching may help your body return to a normal range of movement. The ideal time to spend 5-10 minutes stretching is as soon as you get off the bike, as your muscle temperature will still be elevated and they will be ‘more open’ to stretching as a result.
However the last thing you’ll want to do after a cold and wet ride is to roll around stretching and you’re unlikely to do a good job. Have your recovery drink, a bath or shower to warm up, put on some warm clothes and then stretch
DO I NEED TO COOL DOWN AFTER A SPORTIVE?
I am not suggesting that you have a turbo set-up at your car to do a full Team Sky post Tour Stage style cool down but, if you haven’t ridden easy for the last couple of kilometres of the ride or got sucked into a sprint for the line, 5-10 minutes spent spinning easily followed by stretching before jumping in your car would definitely be beneficial.