Maximize Your Warm Up
When it comes to motocross training, the best athletes balance the gym with track time. Bringing an efficient, physically fit body to the track is as important as racing a finely tuned bike – you need them both to work in harmony in the pursuit of the top step on the box. Go to any AMA national race and you’ll see ergometers (aka rowing machines) and stationary bikes under the canopy of all the factory rigs. This equipment is there for the riders to “warm up” before going out on the track in 100 degree weather.
Now ask yourself this: If the track is already 100 degrees, why do I need to warm up? Well the term “warm up” may be a bit confusing. When you warm up before a race, you are actually turning on some key metabolic processes before the gate drop. This is prepping your body to act and react at a much higher level than if you are just sitting on your bike resting. Knowing this, it then begs the question: How and when should you warm up?
Warm Up – Phase 1 of 2
Having studied and participated in exercise physiology the better part of my adult life, I can tell you there are some changes I would recommend to how some racers employ a warm up. Starting 10 minutes before a race with a 5-minute bike or row is a good thing to increase the heart rate. This will gradually help to open up capillaries to allow more blood flow in your extremities, particularly in the hands and fingers. This in turn will help set the environment for less arm pump, greater oxygen delivery and improved removal of toxins. Knowing how the body functions, and levels that may actually cause fatigue, you do not want to take your heart rate over 75% of your projected max heart rate for this first phase of the warm up.
So how do you calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR)? For most people, to calculate your max heart rate you use the following equation:
220 – Your Age = MHR
If you are 28 years old, your projected MHR would be:
220 – 28 = 192 beats per minute
75% of that would be:
192 x .75 = 144 beats per minute
This is the maximum level at which you do a 5-minute steady state warm up before heading to the gate. But the warm up should not stop there. Simply thinking that your warm up is complete at this point is a big mistake. There is a second phase to your warm up that happens during gate prep. This is the most critical time to prepare your body for what is about to happen when the board turns sideways and the gate actually drops.
Phase 2 – The Real Key to Success
Your body works in wonderful ways that we can measure, learn from, and optimize. When you are under mental and physical stress, you release a hormone called epinephrine (most of us know this as adrenaline). When large amounts of adrenaline are present in your body they have many physiological effects including elevating heart rate and signaling vascular constriction (narrowing of blood vessels). When both of these things happen, it promotes a poor environment for blood flow due to the back pressure created in the cardiovascular system.
Let me break this down to simple terms: If your heart rate goes from 90 beats per minute to 175 beats per minute in a very short amount of time, you are trying to push a massive amount of blood through a maze of small restrictive veins and capillaries. The excess blood flow WILL get backed up somewhere in your body, and guess where it gets backed up most of the time – in your forearms. This is due to the fact it can’t easily get through the small blood vessels in your hands and fingers. Welcome ARM PUMP…
To combat this, you need to get your heart rate closer to maximum closer to the gate drop. A short duration, high intensity warm up will allow your heart rate to overcompensate just before the gate drop, essentially giving your body a chance to precondition the blood flow to be at race levels, forcing the small blood vessels to open up and allow more blood flow.
In my research with elite athletes, we know that your body will spike epinephrine very short term and then modulate it to appropriate levels. We need to get past the spike in the second phase of warmups.
So, here is what I recommend for a brief high-intensity warmup behind the gate approximately 2-3 minutes before it drops.
- 15 jumping jacks
- 20 upper body twists
- 30 second hamstring stretch
- 20 seconds of high intensity high-knee running (this last exercise is the key to prepping your body to get past the initial spike in epinephrine)
If you wear a heart rate monitor, you should see increases close to 85-90% of your MHR. This signifies you are ready to go with maximum efficiency for your race. Your blood vessels will also be better prepared to deal with the massive influx of blood volume when the gate drops. The end result is a much better chance of managing not only the start of a race, which is extremely high stress, but helping control arm pump particularly in the early to mid stages of a race.