Friday, February 27, 2009

Warming Up Is Not Optional

By: Katharine McCoy

We all know we should do it. The pros do it and the best amateurs do it. Warming up is essential to a good performance, whether you are going on an a training ride or a race. Once you understand why the body needs a warm up you will be more motivated to do it even if you are just heading for a ride with some friends.

Most of us understand the basics of why a warm-up is important. Anyone who has ever skipped their warm up because they were running late knows that it can affect your performance. If your muscles are cold and you simply gun it with cold, tight muscles you will pay a price with stiff, oxygen starved muscles that can feel exhausted within just minutes of a ride. But what is really happening in our muscles?

When your muscles are at rest they conserve the amount of blood and oxygen that that goes into the muscles. Few of the small blood vessels that allow blood flow and thus oxygen into the muscles are open. As you begin to work out and your muscles become warmer and blood flow increases into the skeletal muscles which results in the blood vessels being opened and allowing more oxygen in into the muscles. This process takes about 10-12 minutes to occur

Warmer blood actually holds less oxygen which leaves more for the muscles. As the body begins to warm-up it also begins to activate its cooling mechanism which keeps you from over heating early in the ride.

Warm muscles are able to contract and relax faster. The joints are looser. The nervous system is also more responsive. And the metabolism begins to rev up giving your body better access to the fuel that it will need on your ride.

This is just part of what happens during the warm up. The other part is what happens during your minds as you warm-up. The warm-up allows your mind time to focus. This is a great time to think about what you need to do during your race. If it is a long ride that you are about to do it is a time to focus on relaxing, but if it is a short ride your may want to get yourself a little pumped up. Either way you want to make sure that jumpy nerves are not sabotaging you. This is the time to make sure that your mind is in fixed on the positive. This is why you so often see athletes using music in there warm ups as a way to get their mind focused on what is ahead.

Okay, you know that you should warm up and now you even have an idea why but how do you do it. This is the hard part because different events and different people need different warm ups. Even the temperature changes the way that you should warm up. That is why each person needs to customize their warm-up to their fitness level, the length and intensity of their event and to temperature and humidity. Here are a few examples of warm-ups.

Let’s say that you are meeting your buddies for a Saturday morning group ride. You might make people look at you funny if you bring out your rollers in front of Starbucks or even the local bike shop. For many people a great way to do a warm up is to ride to the start of the ride. A 15-20 minute pre-ride. Start at a very comfortable pace. Keep your heart rate in a low zone for most of the warm-up. During the last half of the pre-ride add in a few high intensity sprints with long rests in between. An example would be three or four 30 second high intensity sprints with 2 minutes of low intensity recovery. You will also want to get out of the saddle a few times to prep your muscles.

If you are just going for a solo ride you simply need to allow yourself about 15 minutes added on at the beginning of your ride for a similar warm-up don’t cheat your body out of this warm up just because you are on your own. Pushing yourself too early in your ride can result in injury and a less productive workout.

This is where you need to know yourself. Many people are the most comfortable doing their pre-race warm-up on rollers. This way they have complete control over their warm-up. Other people like to ride around a pre-determined warm-up route. However if you are not very familiar with the area that you will be going to it is a good idea to plan to do your warm-up on rollers. You don’t want to get there and realize that there is no good place to get in your warm up ride. Your warm-up will vary depending on the type of race you are doing. Longer rides that are going to start out slow may mean that you can save some of your warm up for on the road so that aren’t just adding extra time in the saddle.

Keep an eye on the temperature and the humidity when figuring out your warm-up. In hot weather your body will warm-up faster and if it is humid you may raise your likelihood of suffering heat-exhaustion if your body is not able to cool itself sufficiently. Of course, you need to make sure that are also drinking more liquids and electrolytes so that your body does not become depleted. Some endurance athletes actually try to cool themselves before races when the temperatures are extreme. This may not work for those of us that don’t keep cooling stations with them but make sure that you are aware of extremes in the temperature when you decided on your warm-up.

The fitter you are the longer you need to warm-up. That means that at different times of the season you may need a longer or shorter warm-up. Also some people just need longer to warm up. Endurance athlete often feel that it takes a long time until they really feel they have hit their stride, while sprinters may have to worry more about using up to much energy during a warm-up. Experiment with what works for you and don’t be afraid to change as your level of fitness or circumstances change.

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