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Are you a cold start cyclist?
11 Jun, 2007 - Darren Ellis

The scene before a road race can be pretty chaotic.  Competitors, bikes, support teams, mechanics, and the 163 empty gel packets to slip on.  Surrounding streets may be blocked off and race officials conspire to keep everyone herded into a tight pack near the start line.  Most of the riders probably arrived late, still chewing on breakfast and trying to rub some life into their quads and calves.  Forget about having the time or space to warm up properly.  And just what is a proper warm up anyway??  Thigh stretches?  Toe touches?  Jogging on the spot?..........like that'll happen in bike shoes;  maybe if you got up a bit earlier you had time to have a bit of a ride round before the start.

 

Most people associate a warm up with stretching.  Technically stretching can be classed in two categories: Static and Dynamic.  Static stretching is traditional 'reach and hold' type stretching but also includes PNF stretching (alternating stretching with isometric contractions) which will not be dealt with in this article as PNF relates mainly to flexibility training rather than a warm up.  Dynamic stretching refers to the active movement of joints throughout their range of motion. 

Contradictory results have been reported for the effects of an active warm up on endurance exercise.  Endurance performance has been reported to either improve [1], remain unchanged [2], or be impaired [3], following an active warm up. The use of different warm-up routines, different performance tasks and different performance times (570 minutes) meant it was hard to draw a comparison.  But the general consensus has been towards an improvement in performance compared to nothing at all.

 

Dynamic stretching has gained popularity as an efficient way to prepare the body for exercise, with many studies showing it to be more efficient than static stretching.  Other studies have shown static stretches to possibly be detrimental to performance in some cases [4] (related to a decrease in muscle elasticity, stretch reflex, and thus power output). 

A study comparing an active warm up to a passive warm up (a heated room) in cyclists found the active warm up to be superior with a higher muscle temperature as well as a higher power output [5].  In another study comparing the effect of dynamic vs. static vs. no stretching at all, a moderate performance increase occurred in various running, jumping and throwing tasks [6]

 

So how does dynamic stretching fit into a warm up? 

A dynamic warm up doesn't have to be complicated.  Start with gentle arm and leg swings, moving in all directions, keeping relaxed and not pushing the muscle to the point of stretch.  Move into forward bends, keeping the spine straight, then spine rotations, bodyweight squats, calf raises and lunges; staying well away from the point of fatigue.  A favourite of mine are fence hoppers, to get into the groin and glute muscles; simply pretend like you are stepping over a fence by lifting your knee up at your side and bringing it round.  Then repeat it back wards.  Try a web search for pictures of these exercises and plenty of others, to ensure correct performance.

So in easy to absorb, bullet point form, the potential benefits of a dynamic warm up are:

  • An increase in body temperature
    • Specifically muscle and connective tissue
  • An increase blood flow to muscles
    • This means more oxygen delivered
  • Increased nerve conduction
    • nerve receptors and the speed of the nerve impulses are temperature sensitive, so will improve when your body temperature is higher
  • Improved muscle contraction
    • muscle contraction is quicker and more forceful at elevated temperatures
  • Increased amount of synovial fluid in joints
    • Which increases joint lubrication and reduces stiffness
  • Improved range of motion about each joint

 

Not a bad result for a few leg swings eh?  I'll keep an eye out for all you fence hoppers at the next race.

 

Darren Ellis has a Postgrad Diploma in Exercise Science, specializing in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition and is currently completing an MSc. His passion is nutrition and strength training for improved performance, health and body composition, which he practices with the University of Auckland Exercise Rehab Clinic, Unisports Center for Sports Performance  and as a Sports Nutrition intern with Sport and Exercise Science NZ.  He can be contacted at performancewellbeing@gmail.com

 

References

1.             Grodjinovsky, A. and J. Magel, Effect of warming up on running performance. Res Q Exerc Sport, 1970. 41.

2.             Andzel, W. and B. Gutin, Prior exercise and endurance performance: a test of the mobilisation hypothesis. Res Q Exerc Sport, 1976. 47.

3.             Gregson, W., A. Batterham, and B. Drust, The effects of pre warming on the metabolic and thermoregulatory responses to prolonged intermittent exercise in moderate ambient temperatures. J Sports Sci, 2002. 20(1): p. 49-50.

4.             Avela, J., H. Kyrolainen, and P. Komi, Altered reflex sensitivity after repeated and prolonged passive muscle stretching. J Appl Physiol, 1999. 26: p. 262-72.

5.             Racinais, S., S. Blonc, and O. Hue, Effects of active warm up and diurnal increase in temperature on muscular power. Med Sci Sports Exer, 2005. 37(12): p. 2134-2139.

6.             McMillian, D., et al., Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2006. 20(3): p. 492-9.

 

 

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