Fortnightly Note

Your Warm-Up Matters, This is Why


Doing a good warm-up can make a huge difference to your workout as well as competition results. It's not just something to do halfheartedly.

I'm a coach and an athlete. As much as I like to know WHY something works, the fact THAT IT DOES WORK is all I really care about. This sometimes puts me at odds with researchers in sports science and sometimes it puts me in a position where I have to work hard to get to the application of some very "interesting" piece of physiology.

One of Those Conversations

One of my colleagues in the Coach Education department at British Cycling was working on a project (I don't remember exactly what it was meant to be, but there were many interesting projects that went nowhere). 

He asked me whether we could have a chat about what he was doing and would I give him some input. I love to talk coaching, so how could I say no?

My colleague was very much a sports scientist and he proceeded to tell me all about VO2 kinetics, showed me some graphs and numbers, described what happens to our oxygen usage when we start exercising, how we develop an oxygen debt that has to paid back and a few other bits.

Honestly, it was fascinating to listen to. But eventually, I had to ask: what's the practical application of this to a coach on the ground?

It took a while, but eventually we came to this: the oxygen debt you accrue when you start exercising and which you have to pay back is the reason you need a thorough warm-up before any high intensity sworkout and especially before competition.

Anyone who has ever jumped into a bicycle circuit race without a warm-up knows what that oxygen feels like and how it almost certainly comes back to bite you sometime in the first 20 minutes or so.

As it was explained to me, by doing a thorough warm-up in which you briefly touch competition intensity, you accrue that oxygen debt and pay it back during the rest of the warm-up and in the interval between warming up and starting the race. You do not accrue the same level of oxygen debt when the race starts.

Aside from the psychological benefits, elevation of heart rate and body temperature etc, that's why your warm-up matters. I've written about warmups more extensively in my article about specific workout planning


Quite how accurate my understanding of the science behind it all might or might not be is really immaterial.

The application - that your warm-up matters because you don't find yourself breathless early in your race - is what does matter. And that simple piece of knowledge has served me and people I've worked with very well indeed.

Will Newton

In over twenty years of coaching, I have coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. My interest in getting the best results for people who train for health and fitness or the love of sport, rather than as professionals, drives me to find the most effective ways to get results. My mission is simple: Be in better shape at 70 than most people are at 20, and to help you do the same.

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