Last night, before setting out on a glorious afternoon ride in the spring sun, I posted a quick status update on Bookface: "Riding! In knee warmers!". I'd meant it to be an hallelujah chorus that the temperatures had risen enough to forgo tights, but a friend quickly lambasted me for being overdressed, citing his own hard-man style commute in the winter in "-15" wearing "only jeans".
A debate was sparked, and this blog post is my official rebuttal.
My rule of thumb (er ... knee?) is knees and the big quad muscles that are doing all the work must be kept covered until it is at least +15 degrees celsius (about 60F). I usually follow the same rule for arm warmers.
Why? Because an amazing, well-respected coach once told me that was what to do.
And there are tons of reasons you should consider doing the same. Especially this time of year when it's so tempting to jump into shorts and jersey riding after a winter on the trainer. For your own good, don't rush mother nature.
1.) Keeping your knees covered will reduce your chance of developing a knee injury. And the kicker is you might not even feel it right away, so you think "oh, I'm good to go!" But really you risk slowly adding unnecessary wear and tear to your joints. I for one don't want to wake up with arthritis when I'm 50. Besides, everyone knows keeping your muscles warm will help to prevent strains and pulled muscles, as well as torn ligaments.
2.) If your rides are longer, even if you start out and it's ten degrees and sunny, after about 2 or 3 hours, your extremeties are the first to cool down as your body prioritizes your survival organs -- heart, lungs, brain etc -- for the fresh, warm blood. Best to have versatile layers like knee and arm warmers on hand so you can start and finish with them on, and maybe get some tanning time in the middle by shoving them in your jersey pocket. That way, you won't have to cut your ride short for being cold!
3.) Tendonitis: By definition, tendonitis means that your tendons are inflamed. The tendons around your knees and at your Achilles tendon are especially vulnerable when cycling in cool weather because there is not much blood in these areas to keep them warm and injury free. Tendonitis can be quite serious if not taken care of and could possibly lead to a career ending injury. Some riders are more prone to this than others but you don't want to find out the hard way so it is best to take precautions to prevent the problem from developing in the first place. Many riders with tendonitis can often trace it back to one particular day of cool weather riding without proper protection.
4.) Finally, circulation. I'm no expert, I just have what I've experienced and what I've been coached. But basically, the engine room is in your torso, and your legs are the pistons. Your engine -- heart and lungs -- are busy pumping blood into your legs, brain, and hands to keep up with the lactic acid exchange that happens in a hard workout. The last thing you need is for your engine room to be pulling double duty to keep your extremeties warm. You'll see your heart rate drop, and your "zone" work will become totally artificial. To get the most out of your workouts, you should help it along in this department, until the temperature rises above that magic 15 degrees C.
And so with that, happy trails, and wear your knee warmers!