Warming Up

rbrShould you warm up before a ride? What about stretching? Most of us say yes, but when it comes down to it, many of us slide in a parking lot for a group ride or a training session and just jump on our bike and “warm up” on the ride. Please allow me to also note that warming up and stretching is two totally different things. Over many, many years, the theory of warming up for a race or training ride has bounced from “don’t waste the energy” to hammering it out for an hour on a trainer prior to the event. There are new studies to show that the correct warm up could make all the difference in performance. But there is NOT a one size fits all.

First of all there is huge distinction in various warm ups, when it comes to what kind of activity you are doing: prologue, time trial, criterium, road race, stage race . . . or training with intervals, long rides, short rides, hill repeats and so on. Let us, for the sake of brevity, just focus on two: racing and training, with the focus being level of intensity. The effort from the start of the event is the key to what you will do (or not do) in respect to warming up. For example, if you are in a time trial or prologue or criterium, the intensity level is high from the gun; same for the training session that is maybe hard hill repeats or intervals or training race. First of all, let us look at what we already know about the human body; something that has not changed after many years of research. We know that our muscles are designed with a protection barrier, when it comes to effort placed on the muscle. It has been known for decades that if a muscle is stressed without any proper warm up a flood of stress hormones are released in the body, rather than a normal increase of blood flow due to the opening of capillaries, and the muscle reacts by “shutting down” to a limited availability of 50-60% of full potential. This protects the muscle from being damaged by tears or strains. For the same reason you would not try to lift the heaviest weight you ever lifted without a proper warm up, you should not try to explode into your peak FTP or LT without a proper warm up. We have all been there. Jump on the bike, trying to hurry into a hard session, and you feel like your pedaling in wet cement. Muscle response, “Nope, I will not do that.” So we pedal through it and force the muscle, probably doing some microscopic damage, and “manually” enter into an anaerobic exercise only. This is where there is no cardio involved, just muscle strength. We burn through our glycogen stores pretty quickly and never seem to “feel right” during the whole race or ride.

Now, back to the idea of warming up before a high intensity race or training session . . . the whole idea of warming up was just stated previously. Studies show a significant boost in Vo2 uptake, a delay in anaerobic activity and assist a gradual core temperature increase. What is NOW being shown is that the level of intensity in the warm up is not as important as previously thought. Studies now show that riders with a moderate spin for 20-25 minutes actually show consistently better results than those who have pounding warm ups with build-up tiers  and a couple of full gas hits and a spin down. After all, the whole idea is wake up the legs and cardio system and warm the core, not dig into areas you will need later in the race or ride. Now the only exception to the rule is for those who plan on full gas breakaway from the line or maybe a prologue. The reason being is that the warm up must be longer, building up to full on race pace juuuuuuuust before you go to the line. Which begs question: How long does a warm up last?

10 minutes . . . give or take 3 or 4 minutes. Studies have shown a significant decrease in blood levels after 10 minutes. You warm up correctly. You are feeling good. You go to the line . . . aaaaaaand . . .  you wait for 20 minutes. Yes, you might as well not have even completed a warm up. This begs a question for which I do NOT have an answer: warm up proper and be in the back of the pack at the line or warm up and be first on the line but have to wait a long time? Only you will have to make that decision, as what kind of individual you are on the bike. But looking at the data, it is better to have properly warmed up.

Lastly, the other side of a training ride is the group ride that starts at the shop or Wal-mart parking lot and spins for 65 miles. Normally, those rides start out at a modern pace, with talking and socializing before things get serious. That would be a good amount of time for a warm up, allowing your body the time to enter into an exercise and strenuous state. I personally have noticed that the older I get I need more time (or miles) to get my legs ready and one of the main reasons that I ride with men near or around my age and skill. If I happen to jump over into a training ride with younger or stronger riders, I take the time to show up a bit earlier to warm up on the streets prior to the ride. All in all, do your body a favor and warm up. In the long run, your body will respond better and perform better for you.

Bon Vélo!







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