Warm up properly to ensure a top mountain-bike performance

Learn the value of a proper warm up  Credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport
There are a number of physiological reasons why warming up is beneficial before hard off-road training and racing.

A warm-up increases the speed and force of muscle contractions. It heightens the depth of your breathing, oxygen transportation and blood circulation to the working muscles. It decreases the strain on muscles, tendons and ligaments. And it helps "second wind" to be achieved.

Warming up also increases muscle temperature and the chemical processes used to produce energy. For every 1-degree rise in body temperature, metabolism within a muscle cell rises approximately 13 percent. The exchange of oxygen from blood to muscle is improved, as is nerve transmission.

Active vs. passive
There are two types of warm-up: active and passive. Active is the most common in cycling. It can be related to the specific skills of cycling, such as actual riding the trails or using the wind or mag trainer, or it can be unrelated, such as calisthenics or flexibility exercises.

Any of these will succeed in raising body temperature. Psychologically, a related warm-up is best because it can help create a state of mental readiness. It appears to sharpen coordination and awareness, and it establishes the neuromuscular pattern.

Passive warm-ups are done with warm baths or showers and by massage. These have some benefit for increasing performance. Massage in particular can be used when there is a long wait on the start line and riding is impossible, such as before the start of a race.

However, when a choice exists, active warm-up should be used even if it is unrelated.

Length of warm-up
Warming up must not cause fatigue, but intensity and duration is an individual matter. In general, when you break a sweat you have raised your internal temperature to the desired level.

Better performance will usually occur when warm-up is done gradually for 15 to 30 minutes rather than quickly in just five minutes.

The positive effects may last as long as 45 minutes. However, the closer the warm-up to the start of the event, the more benefit it will have on performance. The warm-up should begin to taper off 10 to 15 minutes prior to competition and end with five to 10 minutes remaining. This will allow recovery from any slight fatigue.

Injury prevention
A warm-up is a valuable preventative. Research has shown that it can head off strains, muscle tears and soreness that would probably occur if a rider went into a major effort while still "cold."

The muscles most often injured are those that oppose the strong, contracting ones. Before opposing muscles are warmed up they relax slowly and restrict free movement.

Depending on the event and weather conditions, there are several things to consider when warming up. Is the temperature hot or cold? Is there a steep climb soon after the start? Or will the opening minutes be quite easy?

At most off-road races because of the sprint to the single track, a good warm-up should precede every event.

Cooling down
Cooling down is done by pedaling easily for a few minutes following the race or hard workout. The purpose is to remove lactic acid that has accumulated in muscles because of the anaerobic work.

Lactic acid is more rapidly removed and re-synthesized (in the liver or resting muscles) during light exercise than during rest. It is especially important to keep moving when hard efforts are alternated with periods of inactivity, such as at a track meet. Otherwise there is the risk of muscle soreness and tightness.

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