Cooling down - Taking the steam off your ride

January 16, 2013

 Post-Ride Cool Down

Sports physicians have been telling us for years about the importance of a good warm up, but what about after the ride? I’ve seen so many cyclists finish a hard ride only to stop at a café. Like flies to a lamp, they just get off the bike once that latte is within sight. We need to look at what your body goes through during a hard session to understand why we warm up before a ride, and why we must cool down after.

When your pushing hard, your body is converting glucose within muscles and fat deposits into energy to spin your legs. Your lungs are working overtime to deliver oxygen to the blood stream and your heart is pumping faster than normal to ensure this oxygen rich blood gets to your muscles. For your body to be able to keep up with what your asking for it, you need to be warmed up. Warm ups are designed to: 

-       Prepare the mind and body

-       Increase the core body temperature

-       Increase breathing rate

-       Increase heart rate.

When riding, as long as the training intensity is below your aerobic threshold, your body is using oxygen to produce the energy. In circumstances where you push yourself beyond your aerobic capacity, such as in sprints or hard intervals, your body produces energy without the need for oxygen. This process is called anaerobic metabolism.  One of the many by-products of this process is lactic acid. Under normal conditions, your rapid heart rate ensures that your blood vessels remove these waste products as they are being produced. The trouble begins if you finish a hard ride without giving your body the chance to cool down. Your body doesn’t have the time to remove these waste products and inject your oxygen and nutrient starved muscles with fresh blood before your heart rate slows down back to normal. At this point, your still alive, however you haven’t given your muscles the best start to recovery. The result is excess soreness and muscle damage that will take longer to repair. 

As such, cool downs are designed to gradually bring down your heart rate and give your body the chance to recover after your ride. Cool downs are simple and don’t require much effort or thought. All it takes is 5 minutes riding around at a gentle pace, and you could even incorporate it into your last 5 minutes of the ride.  All you need to do is drop down a couple of gears and spin your legs without much resistance.

After you get off the bicycle, stretch your legs out for a couple of minutes. Do this immediately while your muscles are still warm. Researchers Robert Herbert, Ph.D. and Marcos de Noronha, Ph.D. Sydney University concluded after systematically reviewing 10 previously published studies on stretching post work out that stretching doesn’t prevent, or doesn’t greatly reduce the likelihood of post-exercise muscle soreness or injury. What stretching will improve is your flexibility, and as riding a bicycle is all about your leg’s range of motion, this can’t be a bad thing. Do this for a week and you won’t even think about it after a ride. 

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