Why warm-up?


Some cyclists swear by it, while others don’t see the point. If we zoom in on a scientific level, what actually happens during a warm-up and why would you do this or not?

Oxygen uptake is better at a higher body temperature

First of all, the body temperature rises and the blood circulation accelerates. At a slightly higher body temperature, oxygen can be better absorbed and delivered to the oxygen transport molecules in your blood, called hemoglobin. By warming up, more oxygen can therefore reach the muscles. Also, at a higher body temperature, the range of movement of your joints increases. A warmed up body is slightly more flexible and less stiff.

Don’t start with an oxygen debt

Another factor that helps to perform better after a warm-up is the fact that when you start exercising with a higher intensity, the energy supply switches from fat burning to mainly carbohydrate burning. This process means an increase in the lactate level and is partly anaerobic. This means that there is a short oxygen debt until a new stable state is reached. You don’t want this oxygen debt to arise in the first minutes of your time trial or race. Maybe you have experienced this in the first minutes of a race without warming-up. So if you make this switch at a gradual warming-up, you can put the hammer down right from the gun.

The effect of neuromuscular activation

The neuromuscular activation of the muscles also helps to perform better after a warm-up. This process is called post-activation potentiation (PAP). It basically means that short bouts of intense physical activity cause a biomechanical change in the muscle cells, which increases the strength of the muscles. This effect lasts only about five to ten minutes. Thus, a muscle that has already made a considerable effort can provide more strength in the five to ten minutes after that than a muscle that does this for the first time. You may also have noticed that your second or third sprint in a workout is always better than the first. This is partly because of this.

Getting the right mindset

Last but certainly not least is the effect of getting into the zone. A warm-up can help you get into the right mindset and the right amount of ‘arousal’ to perform optimally. That’s why you see most professional cyclists with big sunglasses, caps and headphones completely closed to their environment warming up.

How to do a proper warm-up

Now that we have seen the effects of a warm-up, it is clear when a warm-up is desired. It is logical that this is not only the case with time trials, but for any event that requires a hard start. You could even argue why you don’t warm up with every effort. It can’t hurt to do it, right? The point is that a warmed up muscle does indeed perform better, but it’s also tiring for the body. So warming up too long or too intensely can be counterproductive. You also have a limited storage of carbohydrates in your body for about 1 hour to 1.5 hours at FTP intensity. Emptying this storage during a warm-up for an event lasting more than one hour can therefore also affect your performance. In fact, you can say that for efforts longer than an hour and a half or efforts that don’t require a hard start, it’s better to keep a warm-up to a minimum. In addition, you should be able to warm up up to five to ten minutes before the start. A warm-up after which you stand still for 20 minutes, is better to skip and save yourself the trouble!
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