By Laurel-Lea Shannon
Do you ever get confused about the best way to warm up before a ride and how to cool down when you’re finished? Or, what you should eat on a long ride and when? Or, when you should use electrolyte drinks and when you should use water? In this interview, world class duathlete Diane Stibbard answers these questions and more:
- cross-training — what to do-how to do it
- how to boost recovery time by seventy percent
- when to supplement with food during and after long rides
- water or electrolyte drink? — how to properly hydrate
Q: We’ve talked a little bit about cross-training. How important is cross-training during the summer season?
DS: I think it’s important in terms of working the body differently to help prevent injuries. Generally injuries occur because of a repetitive motion, unless, like I said earlier, there is a structural reason. Anything that’s done day in and day out, whether it’s running, cycling or any kind of sport, is going to stress the muscles in a repetitive way. So, cross-training is important to build the other muscles and let the muscles that are focused on during cycling take a rest.
Cross-training is not as important in the summer months. It will probably take up to ten or twenty percent of your total time in the summer versus thirty to forty percent of your time in the winter. You can cross-train with weight training, which builds leg strength and develops the strength of the muscles and the ligaments that you use when you’re biking. You can cross-train by running, or using the elliptical in the gym. You can cross-train using a variety of activities but generally you want to stay away from using the same muscles that you use in repetitive motion during cycling.
Q: So, swimming?
DS: Swimming is a great activity because it’s non-weight-bearing. And it’s also wonderful because when you’ve done a long, hard ride, it will allow your body to flush out toxins, or lactic acid left over from a ride. And when you swim you work your upper body predominantly and not your legs so you’re allowing those muscles you use in cycling to rest.
Q: Swimming is also very good for the back. . .
DS: Yes! It’s actually good for the vertebrae because it allows the vertebrae to lengthen. When we sit on a bike for long periods of time, it compresses the spine. Sitting is the worse position you can be in for spinal health, so swimming is great because you’re basically in a flat position.
Q: What about the best warm-up exercises?
DS: You want to do warm-ups and cool downs that are specific to biking. There’s no point going out for a long walk and then jumping on your bike because you haven’t warmed up the muscles you’ll be using when you go for your ride. You always want to warm up by doing the activity that you’re going to be doing. For example, if you’re going to do a tempo run, or run intervals, you always do a fifteen or twenty minute light jog. And then you go in and you do your intervals, or your hill repeats, or whatever. It’s no different on the bike. Do your warm-up and cool-down exercises on the bike. You want to make sure you’re in a small chain ring in a light gear and then just spin at a higher cadence. If you’re a 90 to 95 cadence cyclist, then you want to be in the 100 to 110 RPM range. It varies depending on what your average RPM range is. This will warm up the legs so you’re not putting a lot of pressure on the legs when they’re cold. At the end of your ride, do this again. Cooling down will flush the legs out if you’ve done a fairly intense ride or a long ride.
Q: And for how long?
DS: Again, it depends on the individual. Some individuals don’t take that much time to warm up. But the rule of thumb is at least ten to fifteen minutes. And it also depends on the time of year. Right now (in May) it’s a little colder out and our bodies need longer to warm up. You might extend your warm-up to twenty minutes. But in the hot summer months, ten to fifteen minutes is usually enough. Many people don’t understand the benefits of cooling down. Cooling down and flushing the legs out can actually aid your recovery process by sixty to seventy percent! A lot of people get off the bike as soon as they finish the ride, and jump in the car and go. Cooling down, flushing the legs and spinning loosely for a good fifteen minutes at the end of your ride is going to benefit your ride the next day and subsequent days.
Q: So if you’re going out for an hour ride you’ve got fifteen minutes to warm up, then your half hour ride, then fifteen minutes to cool down?
DS: Yes, and then again, in the summer months you might be able to cut your warm-ups to, say, ten minutes and then cool down for fifteen minutes and this would give you a bit longer in your actual ride. Warming up and cooling down are overlooked by a lot of people. When you’re young you can get away with it but when you get older you need to allow the body to warm up slowly instead of just jumping right into it. We’re all pressed for time but if you don’t warm up you can get injured. If your muscles haven’t warmed up and limbered up, you can sprint up a hill and then strain a hamstring or a quad. So, I always recommend to my clients, instead of just taking off on your ride, locate somewhere fairly flat to begin your ride and warm up.
Q: I’m not very good about warming up. I probably warm up for about 2 km and then I’m off. What I find interesting too is that I find I don’t really feel totally warmed up for about twenty to twenty-five minutes and then I can go all day. Is that common?
DS: Well that’s the thing, a lot of people take longer. I’m one of those people. It’s always been like that. It’s not just because I’m getting older. Whether I’m running or riding I always allow myself, depending on the time of year, anywhere between twenty and thirty minutes to warm up.
Q: I live in a hilly area. Does that mean I should avoid any hills for that twenty minutes, because that would be kind of difficult?
DS: If you ride hills before you’ve warmed up you’ve defeated the purpose. You can’t warm up if you’re climbing up a hill. Try to locate a flat area even if it’s a city block. Wherever you find your flattest ground, just ride there for at least ten to fifteen minutes. Then on the first climb make sure you’re not pushing yourself like you normally would. Back it off a bit until your muscles have really warmed up. You might not have the opportunity to put in a good twenty to twenty-five minute warm-up but if you give yourself at least fifteen minutes and then back it off for the first one or two hills you’re going to find you’re going to have a better ride.
Q:What about stretching exercises? I generally do a few stretches before and after a ride.
DS: There are so many controversies around stretching and the benefits of stretching, and whether you should do it, and whether it does any good. I’m an advocate of stretching but only after the ride, once your body and your muscles are warm and limber. If you stretch cold you can cause injury and tissue damage. You may not necessarily feel it right away but it can accumulate. The only area that I would stretch before riding is the lower back. But again, it depends if you have areas of the back that are causing a problem. I’m a big believer in stretching but only after the body is warmed up.