The warm-up routine: Tips for the cyclo-cross racer


by Brian Walton

The 2013 Full Moon Vista Cyclo-cross
The 2013 Full Moon Vista Cyclo-cross
There are a million factors when it comes to ‘cross racing. Our goal is to eliminate those that we can control, and getting a good warm-up does just that. This process must become routine for you before every ‘cross race. This is vital, especially in the cold, possibly wet conditions that make ‘cross racing such a joy. Be on your bike and ready to ride at least one hour before the start. If it is cold, increase the first activity to as much as thirty minutes. OVERDRESS FOR THE WARM-UP!
Now, you’re not always going to be able to pre-ride the course in this time frame. That's okay. Simulate some run-ups and obstacles in a field. You might even try to do some of the ‘cross sprint intervals, three or four at the most, to jumpstart your aerobic and anaerobic systems. When you go to the line, you should have already broken a sweat. Be sure to dry off as much as possible before you get to the line to make sure you stay as warm as possible while waiting for the start. I would suggest changing gloves if they’re wet at all, maybe a different hat; anything that is wet should be changed, even your undershirt, the goal is to be WARM and DRY at the start.
  • Expect the unexpected. Be prepared to pre-ride the course as well as having a trainer. The promoter always reserves the right to change event times. Timing of events can be tricky and change on a dime. By the way, if using a trainer make sure you don’t use your 'cross tire. Use a road wheel. Bring an extra kit and undershirt and use a dry kit to race.
  • Be at the event a minimum of one and a half hours before the start of your race. Sign up first, socialize and then count down your warm-up from the start of your race.  
  • Be ready ten minutes minimum before the call up of your event. Synchronize your watch with the official start time.
  • Speaking of warm-up, do what works for you and feel free to think outside the box but the number one detail to remember: DON’T RUSH YOUR WARM-UP. Follow a plan.
  •  Most athletes need anywhere from thirty minutes to one hour of actual riding/running.
  • Most athletes take a little longer to warm up in the colder temperatures. Be patient.
  • Specificity is the key. Go to the line sweating. The start is always fast. It’s not a road race and you can ride “into it!” It’s 100 percent at the start!
Cyclo-cross Warm-up:
Total: 60 minutes.

The 2013 Nittany Lion Cross
The 2013 Nittany Lion Cross
This warm-up includes activation of all physiological systems (neuromuscular and cardiovascular) you will need to perform your best in a cyclo-cross event. In order to perform an hour long warm-up, plan to arrive at the event no less than 1.5 - 2 hours before your race. Planning ahead will give you the time you need to get to the race, register, chat with friends, arrange your clothing, sort out your nutrition, and complete the full hour warm-up. Please follow the chart below for the minute-by-minute explanation of the warm-up. During the warm-up you will want to clear all the barriers, do the run-ups, etc. Get to know the course and pay attention to those sections that might be problematic (ice, standing water, muck, off camber, etc.) and visually choose the best line. (Make a mental image to which you will be able to refer when on course.) For most of the warm-up, try to ride steady and don't bury yourself. You will want to spend some time in your Super LT Power/HR. zone and touch your VO2 Max Power and HR zones at some point during the warm-up but no more than a couple of minutes. All you want to do is touch your racing heart rate. Just don’t spend a lot of time there as you want to save that for the racing!
Following is the breakdown – minute by minute – of this Cyclo-cross Warm-up:

0-10 minutes: Begin with End/Rec pace on flat road or trainer, (use a light/easy gear at 90+ rpm’s)
11-25 minutes: Take a lap or two of the course if possible, should be done at Endurance effort – this is about learning the lines. If this is not possible, then continue on the trainer at Endurance into SubLT pace.
26-35 minutes: Do one lap of the course at race speed, but don’t bury yourself. Break it up into 4 x efforts with recovery of 2 minutes between race efforts.
36-50 minutes: Endurance and Recovery pace, visualize the start, the race, and how well you’re going to do today – during this phase do three 12 second long max effort sprints in a light gear with 3-5 minutes easy between efforts.
51-60 minutes: Dry off, get to start line…Go fast!
About the Author
Brian Walton was a professional cyclist for 12 years and raced for 7-11, Motorola and Saturn. He competed in three Olympics on both the road and track and in 1996 he won a silver medal in the points race. One of Brian’s best accomplishments was winning the Pays Basque Time Trial over Miguel Indurain…the last time Indurain lost a TT for over 5 years. After retiring from professional cycling, at the end of the 2000 season, he began coaching and was the Director of Team Snow Valley; an amateur cycling team. In 2003, he guided Snow Valley, to a National Championship and Top 10 National ranking against all the professional teams. Brian won the USA Cycling Development Coach of the Year. From 2004 until 2012, Brian worked at Cadence Cycling and Multisport where he created and developed the Performance & Training side of the business. In 2012, Brian founded Walton Endurance, a coaching and training center geared towards cyclists of all abilities from Pro Tour riders to enthusiasts.  For more information please visit or inquiries at 

This Article Updated December 5, 2013 @ 07:34 PM For more information contact: