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Here’s Why The First 10 Minutes Of Every Ride Suck

Whoa, well that’s a pretty negative blog title isn’t it? And maybe you’re a David Goggins-esque cardio beast reading that and thinking “wait whaaat?! I love every second of heart-pumping, lung-flexing, butt-numbing glory on my mountain bike.” Then, this piece probably isn’t for you.

But! If you’re one of those people that know you’ll have a blast on your bike, just as soon as you get over that first 10-minute hump, then stick around. Because it’s not just you. As it turns out, the first 10 minutes of any exercise sucks for just about everybody. And there’s a few good reasons why. Allow the hard-working scientists of BG to explain.

Bike rider lying in the grass at Bike Glendhu.

ANAEROBIC TO AEROBIC SHIFT

Before any ride, but especially in the morning, your body is in a restful state, which we call an anaerobic state. Here, your blood oxygen levels are too low to fuel a high level of activity. Your muscles are cold and stiff. You’re not primed to get on a bike and start pedalling.

So, when you do make moves and start to ride, your heart and lungs spark into action to provide your muscles with oxygen and nutrients as your body begins to ramp up its oxygen levels to accommodate the increased demand. But this doesn’t happen instantly. The aerobic shift takes about 10-15 minutes, hence why you might feel like you’re pedalling with brick shoes for the first bit of your ride. After which, you’ll notice that as your body starts to function more optimally, you’ll find yourself in a better riding rhythm. This is the aerobic shift.

Bike rider riding uphill to the summit at Bike Glendhu.

THE “CENTRAL GOVERNOR” THEORY

Another reasoning for why the first 10 minutes of physical activity sucks was proposed by Dr. Timothy Noakes back in the 90s. Dr. Noakes theorized that the brain has a built-in mechanism that regulates physical activity to prevent us from overexerting ourselves. Almost as if the brain is calculating what is a “safe zone” of exertion for the body and its homeostasis. Therefore, when we start to exert ourselves from a rest state, our brain perceives the increased activity as a threat to this “safe zone” and it activates the “central governor”, which reduce the recruitment of muscle fibres and causes fatigue. After time passes, the brain determines that the “safe zone” is not being breached and we can continue at a more comfortable rhythm.

Biker riders pedalling uphill at Bike Glendhu.

GOOD OL’ PSYCHOLOGY

Whether it’s the aerobic shift or another theory, it might not do much to help your headspace while you’re waiting for your blood oxygen levels to kick into gear. The first ten minutes of a ride can make you painfully aware that you’d rather be tucked into bed (if it’s the morning) or at Happy Hour (if it’s an after-work pedal). So, the key to maintaining your motivation is to remember that this is a temporary state and if you push through, you’ll soon forget these thoughts knowing that you’re in it for the long-haul. Truly, you might be even start to feel good. And that’s because of…

Bike riders on an uphill trail at Bike Glendhu.

THE ENDORPHIN HIT

This is what we’re all here for. Those sweet, sweet endorphins. Who here has heard of the “Runner’s High”? This describes the elated feeling that runners or athletes might get while exercising. And that “high” is caused by endorphins.

Let’s go back to basics first. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter that are created in your pituitary gland and hypothalamus (parts of your brain). When your body feels stress or pain, your brain produces endorphins which then attach to the brain’s reward centres (opioid receptors) and carry signals across your body’s nervous system, creating a positive, happy feeling which sharpens your focus and improves your motivation. All of sudden, your ride becomes way easier and more enjoyable.

Endorphins also block up your pain receptors and sometimes even cause “pain amnesia” where you can’t remember how hard or painful an activity was (that’s why you’ve got guys like Braden Currie, who just seem to keep going back for more).

And when exactly do endorphins kick in on a ride? You guessed it: the first wave usually hits at about 10 minutes’ activity. Coincidence? We think not.

Bikers smiling and riding at Bike Glendhu.

HOW TO HELP YOURSELF

It’s starting to all make sense here. The first ten minutes of exercise is tough because you’re going from an anaerobic state to an aerobic state and your body has to play catch up. Then, you’ve got the mental battle that comes off the back of that. And finally, endorphins don’t kick in until around 10-15 minutes to help bail you out.

So what can we do before we start riding to help?

First off: stretching. We wrote a blog about stretches you can do before hopping on your bike, but it’s extra important to do “dynamic stretches” that will loosen your muscles and get your blood flowing. These are stretches that you do in motion, like high knees, legs swings, legs kicks, etc.

Then, breathe deep. Yep, that simple. Taking deep breaths and holding for a few seconds will help expand your lungs, dilating the capillaries that absorb oxygen and helping to bring up the oxygen level in your blood before you head out. Big yawns and coughs work too!

And this maybe isn’t as scientifically-backed, but you can always pop into Velo Café and grab a cuppa before you hit the trails. In fact, we wrote a blog about the potential benefits of caffeine before a big ride here.

Bike riders high-fiving at Bike Glendhu.

From here on out, when you head out on a ride at BG, don’t dread the slog on those first few switchbacks of Kakariki Up. Instead, look at the first 10 minutes as your warm-up. It’s your time to prepare your body for the rest of the ride: where the magic will really happen. Think of your hour-long ride (or whatever your preferred time is) as a 50-minute ride, with a 10-minute warm-up. Work at an easy pace and don’t be hard on yourself.

But… if you really want to just skip those first 10 minutes altogether, we’ve got a solution for that too: van shuttle to Jack’s Spot. No judgement here!

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