Cyclocross Warm Up Protocol

Our latest edition of coaching tips comes from Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching in Boulder. Since cyclocross season is upon us we thought it would be good to continue with the cyclocross tips. Frank talks about how to warm up for a cyclocross race.

By Frank Overton
FasCat Coaching, LLC
4550 North Broadway, Unit C-3B
Boulder, CO 80304

The first lap of a Cyclocross race is arguably the hardest and fastest out of all the endurance cycling disciplines. Going from 80 beats per minute to 180 bpm demands a thorough warm up.

A proper warm-up will allow racers to go ballistic on the first lap without worrying about blowing up or having to reduce their intensity in later laps. Dare I say, it will hurt less? Below you will find a starting point for developing your own Cyclocross warm up routine. I say ‘developing’ because everybody is different and should customize their warm up to how their body works. Take these considerations plus the structure and try it for yourself. Tweak your warm up the next race and the next and before long you’ll have a repeatable individualized warm-up dialed into you!

Notice from the figure above that the x axis is actually a countdown to your race because a good warm up is all about timing. The first half of your warm up is the all important course inspection. The second half should be dedicated to revving up your engine and timing the end of your warm up in relation to your start.

After you’ve arrived at the race, registered, pinned your numbers, the first item on your agenda should be to ride the course. Do this when the race category before your race starts which is going to be about 60 minutes before your race starts. Ride the first lap slow, noticing lines, paying attention to the technical sections. Ride the next lap faster and then a third lap close to race pace. Along the way stop and turn around to check out particularly difficult sections. Pay attention to the start line, the hole shot, time saving lines, spots of bother, & barrier sections. Spend 10 – 30 minutes (as the ongoing race & weather/course conditions allow) inspecting the course.

Head back to your stationary warm up area. Now would be a good time to consume a gel or a banana and take in a sports drink with carbohydrate and electrolytes. Ideally have you’re “A” bike set up on the trainer waiting for you to hop on it, while your mechanic cleans the “B” bike you just inspected the course with. Ideally. In any case, I like athletes to spend the 2nd half of their warm up on stationary bike because it is a controlled environment and it can be all business. If it’s cold outside use a winter coat to keep warm. If it’s wet, have a dry kit, socks & shoes to change into.

Like the graphic above perform a 4-5 minute tempo effort then recover for 1-2 minutes in your zone 2. Hit it again for another 3-4 minutes just below your race pace. Recover for 3-4 minutes and then go hard for 2 x 30 seconds ON 1 min OFF, close to full gas.

If the weather is good and the venue offers suitable roads that are near the staging area, many athletes prefer to forgo the trainer which is fine. During adverse, muddy conditions a trainer warm up will save your core temperature and bike for the race. However, inspect the course in all conditions.

A good warm up is an art and many athletes are different. Here are 2 key elements in the “art of a warm up”

1. Warming up well but not tiring yourself out for the race. It’s the “Goldilocks” adage: not too much, not enough but “just right”
2. Timing the end of your warm up 10-15 minutes before the start of your race—something that’s very difficult with getting a good staging position.

You will know if you’ve gotten a good warm up if you are firing on all cylinders off the start line and on the first lap. If your legs feel good and you are able to push, your warm up was adequate. If you find yourself tiring out at the end of the race, consider dialing back the intensity & duration of your warm- up.

Experiment with your warm up to find out what works best for you. In summary a good Cyclocross warm up goes like this:

1. Course Inspection 10 – 30 minutes
2. Stationary Trainer 30 minutes with a tempo effort, then a sub Threshold effort then 2 x 30 secs ON HARD 1 minute OFF
3. End warm up 10 – 15 minutes prior to the start

Good luck with your warm up and in your races! We at FasCat Coaching hope to see you out there this Fall. FasCat will be providing a complimentary warm up area with our Powerbeam trainers at select races this CX season. Look for our tent! In the meantime, please visit for coaching, physiological testing, bicycle fitting and powermeter sales. Or email

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Frank is the real deal

I continue to be impressed with Frank's physiological knowledge AND his connection to actual riding. His accessibility is second to none and he'cons a good guy to do business with. It is easy to forget how a 3X20 or VO2 max workout feels like unless you're still actively riding. He still gets out and "puts the tongue in the spokes" on a regular basis, which give the riders he coaches the confidence that he gets it. Keep it up!!!

Good instruction here. A few

Good instruction here. A few things made me laugh. Like " while your mechanic cleans the “B” bike you just inspected the course with". And getting 3 laps of inspection with the race before yours. You will be mixing with racers at that point and being chastised by the announcer/official.