Cyclists often rub warming oil on their muscles for an intense ride in the outdoor elements, for a race, or for other strenuous cycling activity. It doesn't just make their muscles look nice. It also makes them feel better when cycling in freezing cold weather or after they've already cycled for 100 miles and are still going. Basically, it keeps the muscles warm and functioning well by stimulating blood flow beneath the skin where it's applied. Additionally, different warming oils have different benefits, such as swelling and pain reduction, faster muscle recovery after working out, and easier release of toxins in the body when cycling.
What Is Warming Oil?
Warming oil is formulated for athletes and causes a warming sensation when you apply it on your skin. Various companies have created formulas that stimulate different body temperature levels, keeping your muscles warm for hours when cycling. Warming oils typically consist of essential oils that come from herbs and spices (this is the part that creates the warming effect) and a lotion-like ingredient, such as shea butter or beeswax, which is used as an emollient and moisturizer. Cyclists mainly use warming oil to fight the cold and muscle fatigue or soreness.
Benefits of Warming Oil for Cycling
It's not surprising that warming oil was first formulated in Belgium, where cyclists are forced to compete in freezing and wet conditions. Cyclists rub the warming liquid into their legs, lower back, shoulders, feet, and anywhere else exposed to cold. When riding in the winter time, wearing shorts is possible when wearing warming oil on your legs. By increasing the flow of blood to your muscles, the warming oil helps blood get to your extremities, which are the parts of your body such as your hands and feet that are far from your heart and more susceptible to extreme cold. This makes it possible to ride longer and with a higher intensity in cold-weather conditions. It acts as an extra layer that protects your skin from the elements. Cyclists also rub warming oil on any body part susceptible to muscle fatigue and joint pain, as it increases blood flow to the muscles, allowing oxygen and nutrients to be transported to the muscles more quickly. This allows your muscles to function at a higher speed, giving you a faster overall speed on your bike. Increased circulation also helps your body get rid of toxins through perspiration and promotes faster muscle recovery.
Warming Oil for Sore Muscles and Joints
Warming oil can also alleviate pain or soreness in muscles and joints that are fatigued, stiff or sore from a previous workout. Certain oils sedate the nervous system, whereas some reduce inflammation; both serve to reduce pain in muscles and joints. They can even be used to treat pain from arthritis, osteoporosis and sprained joins. Chamomile and lavender are pain-relieving oils that have a relaxing, sedative effect on your muscles. Mint, eucalyptus, thyme and rosemary oils are also analgesic, or pain-reducing, but they stimulate the muscles by increasing blood flow. Oils that reduce swelling and inflammation include helichrysum, turmeric, yarrow and chamomile.
Cycling in Cold Weather
Cycling in cold weather can make you susceptible to injury if you don't take the necessary preparations to keep your muscles warm. The joint cyclists use the most are the knees. Under the knee are your tendons, or elastic tissue, you're using to cycle on your bike. Tendons, unlike muscles, don't receive blood supply directly, so it's harder for your body to heat them or maintain their temperature. When cold, tendons are less elastic and stiffer, which makes them susceptible to tearing. If you're cycling vigorously in the cold, you need to keep your knees warm to avoid injury. Cyclist and physiologist Dario Fredrick prepares for the cold by massaging arnica oil around his knee joints and then putting on knee warmers. Arnica is warming and lubricating and reduces swelling. The most effective way to apply warming oil so that it provides you with an extra shield from the cold is to massage a small amount (about the size of a dime) into your muscles for up to five minutes, or until your skin absorbs it. Then repeat to put on another layer. You want your skin to be dry and clean before applying warming oil.
Lindsay Haskell enjoys writing about fitness, health, culture and fashion. She is a contributor for "Let's Talk Magazine" and "The Wellesley News." Haskell is completing her B.A. in philosophy at Wellesley College. She's also a fiction writer whose work can be read online.