by Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

At the beginning of every class we teach is an activity called "warming up".  Since the warm-up seems inadequate in many indoor cycling classes, I felt a review of the process would be beneficial to have on record.

During warm-up, we try to bring the expected working muscles to a state of readiness.  To many, this means an easy roll of the legs while gently increasing resistance and/or cadence.

As an aging cyclist, I have made warming up a practice unto itself.  Each warm-up is specific to the workout I have planned.  It varies depending on what we do, and lengthens in accordance with the difficulty of the training.

Warming up properly on the bike should accomplish the following things:

  1.  Increase blood flow (thus oxygen and fuel) to the working muscles.
  2. Increase aerobic metabolism in the working muscles.
  3. Stabilize breathing and heart rate.
  4. Decrease the viscosity of the working muscles.
  5. Increase the speed of contraction of the working muscles.
  6. Improve coordination among muscle groups.
  7. Prepare the students mentally before initiating difficult training.

Increased Blood Flow

The average person does not have enough blood in the body to support a maximal level of effort in all the muscles at the same time.  The body must “shunt” blood to where it's needed to provide the oxygen and fuel necessary for increased activity.

Have you ever noticed when you press intensity early in the training that the muscles feel as if they”™re anaerobic, even though your heart rate is not yet high?  The body hasn't had enough time to shunt blood to that area to increase the oxygen available for the increasing rate of metabolism.

Increased Aerobic Metabolism

When the muscles are not engaged in exercise, ATP derived from glycolysis and ATP from oxidation are in a specific balance.  Although anaerobic production of ATP yields waste products, it's done at a rate that allows the body to clear them from the muscles so there's no feeling of discomfort.

As the level of activity begins to rise, it's our anaerobic metabolism that initially increases to satisfy the greater demand for energy.  Once the muscles begin to work with greater efficiency and more blood is providing increased oxygen, the body shifts to producing more ATP via aerobic metabolism.  This is when we feel a sudden sensation of greater balance and muscular efficiency, despite a significantly higher heart rate.

Stabilization of Breathing and Heart Rate

Once the body has shifted as described above, a notable regulation of breathing and heart rate occurs.  Rhythmic breathing increases the oxygen that can be delivered to the working muscles.  To a certain degree, this happens naturally.  It also stabilizes the heart rate as long as the intensity remains constant.

Decreased Muscle Viscosity

Viscosity refers to the degree of “stickiness” in the muscles.  The body lubricates muscle fibers during warm-up, reducing viscosity and preparing them for the force we”™re about to apply.  Insufficient warm-up may not allow time for this lubrication of the muscles.  When stimulated through exercise, inactive muscles initially perform small, irregular contractions with incomplete relaxation.  Once viscosity has been reduced, the contractions become stronger and relaxation more complete.

Increased Speed of Muscular Contraction

Warming­ up properly increases the speed of neural impulses.  That enables the muscles to contract more quickly in response to the work effort and improves efficiency and ease of movement.

Improved Coordination

Coordination basically refers to firing the right muscle fibers at the right time for a given physical task.  Correct timing and sequencing from large muscles to smaller ones lead to optimal force.  Cycling-specific exercises that engage muscles in the same movement patterns that they will later perform will improve technique and prepare the body for the unique demands of a particular indoor-cycling workout. 

Prepare the Student Mentally

I”™m often surprised when someone — instructor or student — considers warming up to be only physical.  A similar approach should be taken regarding mental preparation.  Instructors can guide students through specific thoughts, words, images, and feelings and prepare their minds for the upcoming workout. This mental preparation occurs in conjunction with physical preparation, so the students warm up body and mind together.

So, in five minutes or so, we have to shunt blood, ramp up aerobic metabolism, stabilize our breathing, lubricate the muscles, fire the muscles more quickly, practice technique, and prepare everyone mentally for what we are about to do for the rest of the class.  Five minutes is the standard length of warm-up in the average indoor cycling class.

A five-minute warm-up is often considered the minimum necessary before activity.  Note that I did not say “performance”.   A proper warm-up can take as much as 20 minutes out of a class, depending on your ride profile.

My point is to consider the warm-up as important as the training.  Plan it as intricately as you do the training.  The right sequence of movement, music, cues and intensity can prepare students and instructors alike to train as they've never trained before.






Jim Karanas
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