When you have limited time to ride, it's often very hard to "sacrifice" that very precious time with a warm-up. Sometimes it's just the excitement of getting out on our bikes that makes us start too hard, or perhaps you're at the mercy of a group ride that sprints out of the parking lot. While almost anyone who's raced has most likely warmed-up and believes in the value of warm-up, many choose to omit a warm-up before a group or solo ride or a training session.
So is skipping a warm-up a big deal?
If you are interested in putting forth your best performance and just feeling better, I believe so. Although science on the cool-down is not so clear, there is indeed much research supporting the notion that a warm-up provides a performance benefit.
Here are five reasons why you may want to make sure you always work in a warm up before you rides.
1. Increase Body Temperature
It doesn't take much to see that this is probably where the term "warming-up" comes from. We are literally increasing our body temperatures. While getting too hot can be detrimental, the enzymes that are linked to energy production get fired up with this increase in temperature. This means your muscles will be better able to do the work you're about to ask of them.
2. Increase Blood Flow and Circulation
Our muscles need blood to do work. By increasing our heart rate slowly during a warm-up, we'll be also increasing the muscular blood flow. Our body gets the signal that we need to start dedicating more of the blood for our muscles, again getting them ready and capable of doing the upcoming work.
3. Establish Range of Motion
According to Cyclist.co.UK and sport scientist Greg Whyte:
‘The muscle fibres need to be activated, which means increasing bloodflow and establishing range of motion. These muscles include those associated with respiration – the diaphragm and intercostals – that assist with breathing and supplying oxygen to the muscles.
More oxygen to the muscles equals better performance.’
So it's more than just our leg muscles, it's also the muscles involved in breathing that can get better activated. Bonus!
4. Reduces Muscle Stiffness and Increase Speed of Nerve Conduction
Think of a piece of meat that's straight from the freezer. Certainly not very flexible at all. Now consider one out of the refrigerator. More flexible, but still perhaps a bit "stiff." Now let it heat up to room temperature and a bit above, and it becomes more an more flexible. The same is true with our muscles. It's not as large a shift as frozen to thawed, but that increase in temperature can make our muscles more flexible which means they can move more easily. While this is happening, the speed of nerve conduction is increased, which means the signals get communicated more quickly. Some also believe that this will help to prevent injuries, but there is not much science behind. To me, however, that does make some sense in that supple muscles seem less likely to get aggravated with doing hard work.
5. Prepare Yourself Mentally for Your Ride or Workout
While this one does not have quite the same science behind it as it's hard to measure, many believe this is a very important and beneficial piece of warming-up. This aspect may even be more important than the purely physiological ones. By consciously preparing our mind, we can get focused on what's coming up. This may be simply detaching yourself from your other worldly tasks, problems, and concerns. Those chores, work projects, e-mails, etc. won't get done while you're out on your ride. During the warm-up is a great time to "put them in a box" and put that box on a shelf in your mind. They haven't gone away, but don't let them creep into your focus and fun while riding your bike. On a more dramatic level, if you're too distracted to focus on your ride, you may become a safety concern not only for yourself but others around you. I can definitely remember crashing at least once on my mountain bike after having been distracted with my thoughts.
In a future post, I'll write about some guidelines for your warm-ups. For now I'll suggest taking at least 10 minutes to slowly increase your heart rate, and if there is going to be hard efforts or a fast group ride start involved, one or two "hard" efforts of 30-60 seconds.
If you want a better ride, take the time to warm-up.
What do you do for a warm-up? Do you skip warm-ups? Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Please post below.
Here are some great resources to check if out if you want to learn more:
Thanks for reading.
This is often a tough one for those of us who have been in the sport, particularly road riding and racing, for a long time:
Lower pressure (to a point) is faster than rock solid.
I started road riding and racing on 21's and 23's. I can remember seeking out Vredstein tires because even with a tube, they could be pumped up to 140 psi, as opposed to many other's topping out at 125 pounds per square inch (psi). During a stage race a couple decades ago, a friend let me borrow his disc wheel with a tubular. He said, "just check the tire pressure. " I replied, "How much? Like 125, 130?" He simply laughed and said "Not quite. Pump that sucker up to 180." One hundred eighty psi on a disc wheel with my aluminum bike! To say it was a bit of a harsh ride is an understatement. I don't fault my friend. At that time, it was readily accepted that harder was faster.
While it's been accepted in the off-road world, particularly in 'cross, that lower and very specific tire pressure provides SIGNIFICANT advantages, the road world has been a little slower to adopt this mindset.
This Fasttalk podcast with the master himself, Lennard Zinn, does a great job of explaining the concept of psi and how tire size, road/trail surface, rider mass, rider style, and other important factors need to be considered.
I've posted this before, but this is a great tool to help you get a starting point:
I've never met an athlete that did not want to perform better. Can a performance advantage be gained by something as simple as eating within a fixed period of time after your workout? Maybe...or maybe not.
I can't recall the first time I heard the term "glycogen window." I've also heard it called the "window of opportunity", the "carbohydrate window", the "metabolic window", and I'm sure there are others. I feel like this was a "truth" that was taught to me many, many years ago and since then has been reinforced. And certainly something I practice.
If you're not familiar with any of these terms, it's the notion that your muscles are most receptive for glycogen (the stored form of glucose (sugar) that is made up of many connected glucose molecules) replenishment within the first 30 minutes upon completing your endurance exercise. Many experts in the field suggest a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein to maximize the uptake. Since carbs and protein both have 4 calories per gram, one can simply look at the number of grams of carbs and compare it to the number of grams of protein. For example, if the food item at 40 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein, that would fit the bill of a 4:1 ratio.
That's right, 3 or 4 times as many carbohydrates as protein. So you may want to reconsider if a protein shake or bar is your go-to recovery food after that hard cycling workout.
Please understand that these recommendations are for after intense and/or "long" bouts of exercise. A 60 minute Zone 1 recovery spins doesn't need major refueling. A spin to the coffee shop on the beach cruiser while on vacation won't need any refueling. But a ride or event where you're putting down the power or riding for over 60 minutes with a fair bit of aggression, your muscles will get tapped of their glycogen. And that's a notion that is not argued by many. However, there are some instances where exercise less than 60 minutes may require some attention to refueling, such as a 'cross race, crit, or TT.
Back to the "window"...
If you dive into this and do some research, you'll find more than one source that says this window does not exist, or if it does, it is much, much longer. I've seen as long as 24 hours after completion of exercising proposed.
Personally, I subscribe to, and try to practice the 30 minute window. I also recommend this to the athletes I coach. I don't have any muscle biopsies to back up my thoughts, but I do have decades of practical experience with three main points why I think it's a good idea to eat within 30 minutes.
1. Almost everyone I work with is busy. It's part of our culture. We cram more and more into our days. If you make it a habit of eating/drinking within that 30 minute window, it will get done. I've had more than one client tell me how they "forgot" to eat when they got done or "ran out of time" or "didn't have anything handy" and ended up going for many hours or worse, going to bed without refueling. Almost without fail, they didn't feel great during their workout the next day. And maybe even days after that. So if you make it a routine and maybe even have your recovery meal or drink prepared ahead of time, you'll be sure to get it in every time.
2. If we eat something sensible and planned during that 30 minutes, we're less likely to raid the cabinets and refrigerator and make bad choices later on. Those bad choices can often lead to filling our bellies with non-nutritious food, only to be hungry again after a very short period of time. Get in a good recovery mean or drink, and you'll set yourself up for better choices later on.
3. You will recover better and feel stronger on your next ride. Again, this is purely anecdotal for me, but I've worked with many athletes since becoming a coach in 2005, and have heard both successes and failures. Often those failures can be traced back to poor refueling the day before. I know I've certainly put myself behind the eight ball after not being prepared or cutting my time to close to properly refuel. Better to end your ride 15 minutes early and get some food than to push it and put yourself in a hole. Consistency is going to pay off more than intermittent solid workouts.
Dr. Allan Lim is one of my favorite exercise scientists to read and listen to. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable, experienced, and interesting, he also delivers down to Earth, practical advice. You probably know his company, Skratch Labs, and may have come across his books. Here's a great quote from his Feedzone Cookbook.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT After racing or training more than 4 hours, it’s critical that you eat at least 4 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight within 30 minutes of finishing. For exercise lasting less than 2 hours, the goal is 2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. This amounts to about 500 to 1,000 kcals for a 150-pound athlete, depending on the duration of training. Generally speaking, this means that you will eat as much as possible right after getting off the bike if it has been a hard day of training. After an easy day of training, you will eat enough to take the edge off. We need to eat immediately after exercise because our muscles are extremely sensitive to insulin during this time. Insulin brings carbohydrate into the muscle, where it can be stored as glycogen. Consequently, eating right after exercise helps to better restore muscle glycogen.
“The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes,” by Biju Thomas & Allen Lim
Much like I wrote about a cool-down, I have not seen any literature or research that says it's detrimental to take in a recovery meal or drink within this 30 minutes. The biggest downside I see is perhaps taking in too many calories at this time or slamming a big recovery shake after an easy or very short ride. However, if you keep in mind the notion of the recovery meal or drink is for long and/or intense rides, you'll probably be in a good place.
Below are some other great listens and reads you can use as resources to help make your own informed decisions about your refueling practices.
Dr. Allen Lim on The Gravel Ride
What Post-Workout Nutrition Looks Like by LENTINE ALEXIS
The Truth About The Post-Exercise Fueling Window from Women's Running
And if you really want to "nerd out", check out this article:
International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing
I also found one article where they referenced a study that noted eating anything, even something "unhealthy" is better than nothing at all.
Remember that there are plenty of real food options out there that will work well for recovery foods and drinks. Chocolate milk is great in a pinch, too. However, those recovery powders and bars are certainly convenient and going to be better than nothing.
Until next time, fuel ahead of time, fuel during, and re-fuel after. And the rest of the time try to practice healthy nutrition.
If you have a question or comment, please post below.
I absolutely never thought I would strap one of these top-tube "bento box" bags on my bike, but I sure did find it useful this past weekend.
I was planning on a loooonnnnnnggggg road ride with buddy of mine, and we were discussing carrying all of the food that we would need. It was a new route to us, and we weren't sure of our options for purchasing food out on the road. Additionally, we wanted to move along at a good pace, and stops can really kill your progress.
My buddy mentioned he purchased a top tube bag. He shared my dislike of the look, but thought it better than having to shove all that food into his pockets. We're both riders that don't even like to have a seat pack on our bikes, but sometimes you just have to get over yourself for what's practical. Function over form, you know?
I have to admit that I was absolutely thrilled with my purchase. There are dozens of models out there, and the one pictured is the one I actually used. It has a waterproof zipper (which fortunately wasn't tested on that ride), is super easy to open, and the sides are rigid enough to ride with it open and it won't spill your goods all over the road. We were doing 15 minute pulls, and each time I drifted to the back, I would reach in, grab a little bite to eat, and move on. As I emptied the food from the bag, I shoved the wrappers in my short leg, and could then transfer more food from my pocket into the bag. It was a great system and really kept us moving between our store stops, which were hours and hours away from each other.
So I know I'm late to the party on this piece of equipment compared to many of you, but if you've been hesitant like me and have a long ride or even a ride with questionable or no stops, I highly recommend. You won't see this on my bike during a workout or local 2-3 hour ride, but it will certainly make it into the rotation for longer stuff.
Do you have any other tips related to this? Or questions about things bike related? Post up below.
Until next time, keep your food close and eat up!
With 'cross starting in late August in many places, we have the opportunity to experience dry and fast courses, relative to what we typically encounter later in the season. Your preparation for these races can and should be different than for the later season cold, muddy, and possibly snowy/icy events.
Although from 2017, this article presented by CX Magazine discusses ways to help you make the most of these dry and fast courses, as well as how to use them as a springboard for the rest of your season. The "old school" racer in me still misses racing mountain bikes in the early fall and then starting 'cross in October/November, I certainly don't mind the ease of bike cleaning. And clothing selection for these hot races takes a lot less guess work!
Something else I've witnessed in CX Races when the ground is consistently hard and dry is the toll it can take on tires, particularly tubulars. I recall one season specifically where it was very dry through October, and folks were rolling tubulars left and right, myself included. The extra speed we can carry into the corners can generate a lot more force on the tire, and after many weekends of this it can spell the end of a nice relationship between your tire and the rim. I've long since switched to tubeless, but even those, at low pressure, can be folded over and burped or worse. I've had that joy, too, and "rolled" the tire right off the front rim on a high speed downhill sweeper. Fortunately it was grass (albeit the grass felt like concrete : ) ) and not far from the pit, so I grabbed my second bike was able to continue. Take all this into consideration with your glue job and tire pressure choices.
Good time to interject a solid article on tyres and tyre pressure from Bike Rader:
How to choose the best cyclocross tyres for you (and how to set your tyre pressure for CX racing)
I particularly like the paragraph from the CX Magazine article:
"Feel free to give yourself some space on these courses too. There’s no sense in letting someone else take out your front wheel in a corner because you were following too closely. You can conserve a lot of energy leaving a small gap into the corner and then coasting through it to close the gap rather than having to brake and sprint hard. This is assuming, of course, you can keep the riders behind you from trying to jump into the gap."
Far too often I've watched racers in all fields follow too closely in these fast races and get taken out by the rider in front because they had no time to react due to the speeds. Or, they try to force a pass and end up taking out the rider in front, themselves, and many times a rider or two behind. When the speed is up, a little space is ok. Keeping in mind the idea also presented above that you don't want to create a gap so large others will want to close it, or one too big to close down yourself.
Enjoy the article!
TRAINING TUESDAY: USING RACING TACTICS ON FAST SEPTEMBER COURSES TO JUMP START YOUR SEASON
New to 'cross racing? Never tried it but want to give it a try? Give me a shout and I can help!
Comments or questions? Please post below.
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.