Embrocation. Warming Gel. Balm. Belgian knee warmers.
That wonderful smell the fills the air at a ‘cross race. It doesn’t even need to be that cold outside, and you’ll see racers lathering up their legs with all makes of concoctions.
Back in the day, we called it sports cream and locker rooms were ripe with the smell of menthol, and perhaps a bit of b.o. for good measure. Embrocation is typically applied pre-activity as opposed to being used as pain relief for post-activity.
I’ve used warming creams and gels for other cool races beyond cyclocross. Does it actually work?
With the right product, you’ll definitely feel a warming effect, although sometimes it’s far warmer in the shower hours after the application than actually during the race. There are other additives that can help such as a gel that helps repel water and mud on those cold and wet races. But actually keep you warm and help your performance? Well that’s where the science falls short.
There are some downsides with embrocation and precautions that must be taken. First and foremost is understanding that although you may feel warm, you’re not actually protecting your muscles and joints from cold. Or even worse, your skin, if the temps drop into frost bite zone. So we actually trick our mind that our legs feel warm, so they must be OK. They might not be as the studies showed in the podcast I referenced a few weeks ago. See: September 20--Tip of the Week
In my estimation, that’s the greatest concern. Second would definitely be being mindful of your hands after applying the warming cream. You don’t want to itching your eyes or dealing with contact lenses with any trace of embro on your fingers. Chamois cream application can certainly get uncomfortable, too. Eating with your fingers could be downright dangerous. So keep in mind the order of things and make sure you are able to get the embro off your hands before moving on.
This article lists some great “rules” for carefully and successfully dealing with embrocation:
So if you reach for the embro before those cold races and rides, keep these things in mind. And remember, that the warming cream does not take place of covering your legs or a warm-up.
Take care of yourself and enjoy the cold rides!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.