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RCU Education: Warm-ups 101

by Clint Friesen


Why do you warm-up? How do you warm-up? How long do the effects of a warm-up last?

These are questions we get from lots of riders. Here to answer is Clint Friesen, the new off-track trainer at the Carmichael farm.

Virtual Trainer: So what’s the deal with warm-ups? Why are they so important?
Clint: Well, since the cave man days our bodies have learned to respond to exercise and other stresses by increasing heart rate, speeding up breathing, dilating the pupils, etc. It’s called the ‘fight or flight’ response. When our brain realizes it’s about to go down, there is a chain of events that gets our body prepared and primed for what’s to come. If the gate drops and we’re not fully warmed up, we’ll start the race and it’ll take a few laps for our bodies to reach peak performance. By then the race may be over.

What does a typical warm-up look like for your guys?
Clint: Really the most important thing is to find some type of cardiovascular exercise you can do for 15-20 minutes. It could be run, bike, swim, even something like basketball, jump rope, or the Concept 2 rower. One thing to keep in mind is to do a type of cardio that involves all the muscles you’ll be using when you’re riding your dirt bike. That means if you’re cycling you still need to think about how you can warm-up your arms too.

Why 15-20 minutes?
Clint: Good question. Some of the adjustments our body makes during the ‘fight or flight’ response happen quickly; heart rate increase, breathing speeds up or the pupils dilating for example. Other changes take a bit more time; blood flow being redirected from the organs and digestive system out to the muscles. There the blood can do its job of delivering oxygen and other nutrients to fuel your muscles. Blood vessels in the intestines constrict and vessels in the muscles open up so more blood is able to flow through. The muscles need the fuel the blood is delivering for energy and if you take the gate drop cold, a large amount of blood will still be in the organs and intestines. Then it will still take 15-20 minutes for the blood flow to be redirected to the muscles. By that time most amateur races are over. It’s called vasoconstriction and vasodilation. Fun one to google.

This graph shows the percentage of oxygen that’s in the athletes’ muscles on a 0-100% scale. Time (in seconds) is across the bottom axis. You can see at the start of the graph (before the athlete begins) the oxygen is at about 55%. Once the warm-up begins, oxygenation increases slowly up to 90% after roughly 15 minutes. We want the riders to start a race at 90%, not 55%. If you start without a warm-up, you’re starting with the fuel tanks half empty. At about the 1500 second mark, you can see a series of 5 repeats of a 2 lap sprint. Followed by a 20 minute break, then a final 2 lap sprint at the end.

What kind of intensity should the warm-up be?
Clint: It’s an individual answer. Generally speaking most riders are at a light jogging pace. To know exactly, we use Near Infrared Spectroscopy sensors to monitor blood flow and volume in their muscles. Then we can play around with different intensities and durations to see which works the best for that athlete. We’re looking for a specific time and intensity that will give the rider maximum blood flow to the targeted muscle groups. If you don’t have access to that technology you can use a common heart rate monitor and shoot for a heart rate somewhere between 110-130 bpm.

How long do the effects of the warm-up last? Better yet, how close to the start of the race should a rider's warm-up be?
Clint: Preferably it would be 10-15 minutes before the gate drops. However, some races like Mini Os have the riders stage 7-8 races before their class even lines up so that’s usually not an option. We’ve tested this before because it’s a question we needed some answers for as well. I’ll send you some graphs of those testing sessions, along with further explanation. Long story short, it seems like there’s a critical range between the 45 minutes to 1 hour zone where we start to see things drop off. Now that’s only if the rider is seated, completely still, with absolutely no movement. That being said, my suggestion to the riders is to keep moving in the staging area. That doesn’t mean you have to jog in place continually or do jumping jacks the whole time but staying active during the staging process will help the effects of a warm-up last for hours.

This graph shows the testing sessions performed by three different riders. They performed a warm-up protocol, then immediately sat in a chair with no movement allowed. The lines show oxygenation levels of their forearm muscles on a scale from 0-100%. While they’re warm, oxygenation levels are in the 80% range. Once they cool down, oxygenation levels drop back down into the 60% range.

Want to learn more from Clint? You can at the next Ricky Carmichael University Camp in March.

RCU Spring 2015 Camp Dates
March 11-13th (Big Bikes only)
March 24-26th (Little Bikes)

Sign up and further information can be found at

About the Author: Professional trainer Clint Friesen has been in the motocross scene his entire life and has recently teamed up with the Ricky Carmichael at his farm in South Georgia. He specializes in using cutting edge technology to test and train athletes in many different sports. Clint is a Near Infrared Spectroscopy expert and is a part of the MOXY Monitor development team. He also helps guide many NFL, NBA, Olympic, and Division 1 Collegiate programs in testing and training their athletes and works closely with Per Lundstam and the RedBull High Performance Department. Over the last decade he’s trained many riders including; Joey Savatgy, Gavin Faith, Jordon Smith, Anthony Rodriguez, Paul Coates, Dakota Alix, Justin Barcia, Keith Tucker, Martin Davalos, and dozens more.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Greg Hammond January 09, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Great article Clint and Tim! Glad Concept2 made the cut.

  2. Gravatar
    Lute517 January 09, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    I feel that the definition of a warm up would be the preparation of systems required for competition or activity, both general and specific. This seems to be very general and not including anything too specific. More thoughts? Additionally could you speak the use of the NIRS. It's application for quantification of status of readiness seems a little hazy at first considering that others factors can contribute to muscle oxidative levels (especially through the progression of a season and loss of type iia and iib fibers or overtraining factors cuasing reduction in capillary supply per unit type) and additionally there is a huge range for variability in the reading levels considering the nature of these athletes. They are not ultra endurance athletes where levels of this nature could be measured with great reliability and consistency because of their high level of training and predictable physiological responses.

  3. Gravatar
    Clint Friesen January 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Lute, I’m not sure I follow if you’re questioning the actual reading levels of the MX audience (ie. 1st grade or 5th) or if you’re assuming there’s a difference between ultra-endurance and MX athletes in terms of the oxygen saturation levels of Hemoglobin/Myoglobin. I'm going to assume it's the latter, and let me remind you that I also grew up an MX athlete. Please allow me to share some info with you on the use of Near Infrared Spectroscopy involving ALL endurance athletes, so hopefully we can clear things up.

    First, making the assumption that MX athletes are not endurance athletes is dubious at best. What type of athletes to you propose they are... Strength or speed athletes??

    Second, making assumptions over the physiological response of ANY group of athletes can be misleading. I do lots of work with the team at RedBull’s High Performance Dept. on the endurance (and ultra-endurance) athletes with NIRS, and can assure you that there is no superiority in o2 saturation of one group over the next (matter of fact, results amongst any type of endurance athletes are sporadic at best). Actually, the last round of testing on the RedBull endurance athletes in 2014 resulted in the athlete who had trained the least amount of years, having the highest o2 concentration. It’s actually the athletes who have been training the longest/hardest who often have the lower levels of o2 since their muscles have a greater mitochondrial density, and they’re usually more efficient at extracting oxygen and using it for fuel during exercise.

    Third, the purpose of this article was to share what our professional MX athletes do for a warm-up with the viewing audience. It wasn’t meant to be super fancy or technical. Furthermore, if I thought there was some major secret to hide here, I most likely wouldn’t have shared the info with everybody. I don’t get too excited when it comes to this topic, and I don’t think anybody’s super amazing warm up routine is going to make or break the race for anybody. A warm up is pretty basic, and if you think there’s some grand revelation to be made in doing jumping jacks over a spin bike, then please share with us why. That being said, the flight or fight response is pretty basic (and yes, I guess that means our warm-ups are as well). Don’t forget there’s 3 practice/qualifying sessions in SX, and a couple sessions for outdoor MX too. If you’re insinuating we should do a longer or higher intensity warm up, then remember there’s a lot of racing to be done even after all the practice, qualifying, and heat races. We need to be careful not to wear the guys out before the racing even begins.

    The problem is that I believe you’re a little confused as to what Near Infrared Spectroscopy measures exactly. It’s ‘quantification of status of readiness’ is actually just us measuring vasodilation of the vessels in the localized muscle tissue. Not sure why the factors contributing to saturation levels of the muscle tissue are hazy for you? Regardless of what those factors may be, we’re actually just measuring the amount of oxygen that is bound to the hemoglobin and myoglobin at the sensor site. That’s the beautiful part. It means that as the factors change, so does the reading. That’s actually the essence of what we’re trying to gather… and yes, as you state ‘through the progression of the season’ we will see changes due to physiological adaptation as well as fatigue. That’s the reason NIRS is so great. Instead of relying on a Heart Rate monitor which only shows us how fast the heart beats (and not stroke volume, cardiac output, left ventricular ejection time, end diastolic volume, ejection fraction, cardiac contraction time, vascular resistance, blood pressure, etc.) we actually have something (NIRS data) that shows us how the physiological system is responding on that given day, and to that specific situation. That means we don’t use Heart rate monitors and some magic formula, which creates a one size fits all type of training plan.

    It’s a mistake to assume that somehow highly trained ultra-endurance athletes are more predictable than ANY other type of athlete. Matter of fact, some of the worst, most unpredicted, terrible news I’ve ever had to deliver to an athlete, was one of the all-time greats in ultra-endurance sports. It just goes to show you, making assumptions or cookie cutter training programs is what separates the great training facilities, from the ‘Basic Training Camps’ of the sport. I’ve seen many trainers try to make a name for themselves by selling gimmicks, gadgets, potions, pills, powders, and things they don’t even fully understand. All I’m trying to do is present the facts and share a fairly simple concept like what we do for warm-ups.

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