It is not uncommon to arrive at your training destination with a plan in hand and everything seemingly figured out. Until you stop and think about what needs to be done prior to exercise and what areas need particular focus of attention, you will find the best way to warm up to achieve your training goals.
For some, this might end up looking like a five minute spin on the bike followed by five minutes of dynamic stretching, for others an elaborate foam rolling and mobility routine will be performed religiously before any training can commence.
Either of these approaches are far better than just jumping right into training. However, these will provide little stimulus to enhance subsequent performance nor will they make meaningful or lasting physical adaptations that could be the key to improving cycle performance.
Warm-ups are designed to prepare the body and mind for subsequent exercise whilst reducing the risk for injury. There are infinite versions and combinations of exercises that will bring about the same outcome of preparedness. It is therefore justification as to why so many trial-and-error warm-ups have been left by the wayside for newer and more modern approaches to take hold. However, the fundamental principles remain the same. We have always performed warm-ups with the best intentions of increasing the heart rate, stretching muscles and ensuring we feel ready enough to perform, but some of these methods may not be the best way to warm up.
Now let’s take a closer look at the careful organisation of such preparatory movements so that we can not only reap the benefits of feeling prepared but also maximise short and long term effects on physical performance to be able to see differences in our cycling performance.
The RAMP Warm Up
Introducing the RAMP warm-up, originally designed by Dr Ian Jeffereys to be used as a structured framework for athletes to prepare for subsequent exercise. Over the past few years, this method has become widely used and is often regarded by sports professionals as the best way to warm up.
This quick three-step RAMP warm up guide will provide you with the tools needed to physically and mentally prepare you for whatever lies ahead in your training program.
Having a methodical process to follow will steer you on the right path towards being physically prepared and robust enough to continue doing the sport you love. From this point on you should have a new outlook on how your warm-up looks, rather than thinking physical preparation views this as another segment of your training session with the intention to improve.
Step 1 – Raise.
Raising the body temperature will not only allow for more range of movement around the joints, but it will also allow for muscles to function more optimally as they have increased blood flow and oxygen.
This can be performed in any environment, all you need is a small amount of space and to follow these three simple steps. Focus your attention on each element of the warm-up and ensure you are performing each step with intention and intensity to maximise the outcome.
Step 2 – Activate & Mobilise.
Activating key muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes before cycling will mean that when you begin your ride you will already be able to put out moderate to high-intensity work efforts without having to build up into it.
Mobilising these joints will allow full ranges of motion to be maintained. In body parts such as the leg, the key to optimal function is synchronisation. Being able to push through all three joints (ankle, knee, hip) in a smooth and dynamic fashion will allow for efficiency when required to sprint, hill climb and endure repeated hours on the tarmac.
The combination of muscular activation and mobility work will also be a primer for the next stage of the warm-up giving the muscles optimal length and tension to produce the highest amounts of force possible in a single contraction.
Step 3 – Potentiate.
Potentiation refers to the excitation of the neuro-muscular system by performing explosive exercises with maximal intensity. These movements could include jumps, bounds, throws or high resistance short duration intervals.
This potentiation stage is one of the most important elements of this warm-up series as it links the physical preparation into the session. This will often appear to mimic specific sporting movements that gradually increase in intensity.
If done regularly and with the right exercises this element of the warm-up can have beneficial long-term effects on muscle physiology. Such movements done frequently with competence will provide a potent stimulus for structural changes to occur such as increased tensile strength in the tendons and ligaments. This equates to being able to tolerate higher forces through the muscles and therefore increasing the muscles output potential.
Figure two shows an example of how this might look when performed at home with little to no equipment. This can be completed in less than five minutes and changed frequently to avoid monotony. As long as the format of the protocol remains, you may find exercises that work well for you and decide these will form the bulk of your warm-up.
These Ramp warm up protocols are utilised by our strength & conditioning coaches in all settings, tailored to each individual’s needs. They have reduced our injury rates and I would consider it the best way to warm up.
There are several benefits to utilising the RAMP warm-up and approaching this as the start of your training session. Such benefits can be compounded if applied rigorously at the beginning of each training session with intensity and rigour.
If each of your warm-ups lasted only 5 minutes and was completed 4 times per week over the course of a year. It would equate to a considerable amount of time developing targeted skills and enhancing capacities.
- Enhance subsequent performance of the training session to ensure you make the most out of the effort you put in.
- Improve fundamental movement skill development from a health and lifestyle viewpoint to be able to stay physically active as long as possible whilst reducing injury risk.
- Improved locomotive and motor skill control by including a variety of movements into the warm-up to mitigate hours hunched over on the bike.
- Hodgson, M., Docherty, D. and Robbins, D., 2005. Post-activation potentiation. Sports medicine, 35(7), pp.585-595.
- Jeffreys, I. and Moody, J. eds., 2021. Strength and conditioning for sports performance. Routledge.
- Jeffreys, I., 2017. RAMP warm-ups: more than simply short-term preparation. Professional Strength & Conditioning, 44, pp.17-24.
- Jeffreys, I., 2007. Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning, 6, pp.12-18.