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  • Writer's pictureEllie Stiller

Elevate Your Ride: The Science Behind a Warm-Up

Earlier this month, Elevate Your Ride posted an episode on their podcast that thoroughly discussed why it's important to warm up before you ride. This article will dive a little deeper into the science behind why warming up is essential before activity!

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Here are 10 key facts, not opinions, about the importance of warming up:

-Increases blood flow

-Increases muscle temperature

-Improves range of motion

-Prepares cardiovascular system

-Prepares your mind to muscle connection

-Reduces muscle stiffness

-Prevents injury

-Promotes hormonal changes

-Lowers the risk of irregular heart rate

-Improves neuromuscular function

Let's break down what these actually mean for your body. Blood flow is essential for providing your muscles with proper oxygen and nutrients so they can perform optimally. During exercise, your muscles are working harder than at rest and require more oxygen and nutrients, such as fatty acids and glucose, to produce energy. Properly oxygenated and fueled muscles will prepare your muscles for activity to prevent injury, and will overall improve performance. Increased blood flow will also remove waste products like carbon dioxide, reducing the effects of muscle fatigue and soreness. Proper blood flow also contributes to body temperature regulation, cellular metabolism, speeds recovery post workout, and boosts brain function.

Increased muscle temperature is essential for protecting your muscles. Warm muscles have more elasticity, meaning they will properly lengthen and contract. Picture a rubber band, you don't want to stretch the band to its full capacity without first warming it up, otherwise it would snap. Elastic muscles are much less likely to strain and tear. Warm muscles also have increased strength and power, contributing to overall performance because the rate of muscle contraction is directly correlated to temperature.

Proper range of motion is incredibly important for overall joint health and performance. Warming up loosens and lubricates your joints with synovial fluid, which reduces friction in your joints. It also decreases the likelihood of muscle imbalances, which take constant time and effort to correct.

Ellie Stiler

Properly preparing your cardiovascular system is crucial for safety. Warming up will gradually increase your heart rate to a level that is sufficient for exercise. This creates less stress for the heart and can help avoid sudden cardiac strain. As the heart rate increases, so does blood circulation, ensuring the body receives plenty of blood. Slowly raising your heart rate also reduces the risk of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that might occur during high intensity exercise. A proper heart rate will also regulate blood pressure, blood vessel dilation, body temperature, and balances body fluids.

Mind to muscle connection refers to your body's ability to consciously contract muscles during exercise. A person with a strong mind to muscle connection has great control of their body parts and can easily turn on and off different areas. This enhances concentration and focus, meaning having this ability will shift your mind's focus from the stress of the day to solely focusing on your body and its movement. This will increase muscle activation, body awareness, control, efficiency, performance, quality of movement, motivation, energy levels, confidence, and relieve stress.

Reducing muscle stiffness is essential for performance and injury prevention. Think about how your body moves when it is stiff. You compensate, protect, lose focus, and are unable to perform at the top of your abilities. By reducing the stiffness in your muscles you will improve comfort and reduce pain, prepare your muscles for strenuous activity, improve range of motion, reduce risk of injury, remove lactic acid (which causes muscle soreness), enhance blood flow, improve elasticity, and promote long term muscle health.

Preventing injury is an essential component of being an equestrian. Injuries will cause your body to temporarily, if not permanently, move incorrectly. Once your body starts moving incorrectly it causes muscle imbalances and compensations, potentially leading to more injury, and are extremely time consuming to correct. Injuries will keep you out of the saddle and take time to properly rehab. Staying fit and properly warming up and cooling down your muscles are essential for injury prevention.

Hormonal changes during exercise play a crucial role in your performance and your recovery. Warming up stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkiller. This will help increase mood, boost creativity, reduce perception of pain, and create an overall feeling of well-being. Cortisol will also be released, which will help regulate energy levels to provide immediate energy for explosive movements, like when a horse spooks. Adrenaline will also be stimulated to increase heart rate, blood pressure, energy supplies, and alertness. Insulin sensitivity will be enhanced, regulating blood sugar levels.

Irregular heart rates, or arrhythmias, are a concern during physical activity if the body is not properly prepared. Warm ups help reduce irregular heart rates by gradually increasing your heart rate, improving cardiac efficiency, reducing ischemia, balancing the autonomic nervous system, stabilizing blood pressure, and reducing adrenaline spikes.

And finally, neuromuscular function refers to the coordination between your nerves and your muscles. Enhanced neuromuscular function improves nerve transmissions, muscle contraction, muscle recruitment, coordination and control, feedback from muscles (how heavy an object is), strength output, and recovery.

In summary, warming up before any activity, including riding, is essential for safety and performance. Keep an eye out on Elevate Your Ride blog about HOW you should be warming up your body, which was covered in Episode 4 of the Elevate Your Ride podcast!



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