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Sports Medicine
ISSN 0112-1642
Sports Med
DOI 10.1007/s40279-013-0117-y
Warm-Up and Performance in Competitive
Swimming
Henrique P. Neiva, Mário C. Marques,
Tiago M. Barbosa, Mikel Izquierdo &
Daniel A. Marinho
1 23
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REVIEW ARTICLE
Warm-Up and Performance in Competitive Swimming
Henrique P. Neiva • Mário C. Marques •
Tiago M. Barbosa • Mikel Izquierdo •
Daniel A. Marinho
 Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013
Abstract Warm-up before physical activity is commonly
accepted to be fundamental, and any priming practices are
usually thought to optimize performance. However, specifically in swimming, studies on the effects of warm-up
are scarce, which may be due to the swimming pool
environment, which has a high temperature and humidity,
and to the complexity of warm-up procedures. The purpose
of this study is to review and summarize the different
studies on how warming up affects swimming performance, and to develop recommendations for improving the
efficiency of warm-up before competition. Most of the
main proposed effects of warm-up, such as elevated core
and muscular temperatures, increased blood flow and
oxygen delivery to muscle cells and higher efficiency of
muscle contractions, support the hypothesis that warm-up
enhances performance. However, while many researchers
have reported improvements in performance after warmup, others have found no benefits to warm-up. This lack of
consensus emphasizes the need to evaluate the real effects
of warm-up and optimize its design. Little is known about
the effectiveness of warm-up in competitive swimming,
and the variety of warm-up methods and swimming events
studied makes it difficult to compare the published conclusions about the role of warm-up in swimming. Recent
findings have shown that warm-up has a positive effect on
the swimmer’s performance, especially for distances
greater than 200 m. We recommend that swimmers warmup for a relatively moderate distance (between 1,000 and
1,500 m) with a proper intensity (a brief approach to race
pace velocity) and recovery time sufficient to prevent the
early onset of fatigue and to allow the restoration of energy
reserves (8–20 min).
1 Introduction
Warm-up routines are common practice before training
and competition in almost every sport. For decades,
practitioners have prescribed warm-ups to prevent injuries [1] and enhance the performance [2] of their athletes.
The scientific community supports the use of warm-up,
which has been reported to increase muscle temperature,
stimulate the performance of muscle contraction,
decrease the time to achieve peak tension and relaxation
[3], and reduce the viscous resistance of the muscles and
joints [4]. Additionally, the hyperthermia induced by
warm-up leads to vasodilatation and increased muscle
blood flow, most likely resulting in optimized aerobic
function due to the higher oxygen consumption during
subsequent tasks [5, 6]. Febbraio et al. [7] suggested that
muscle temperature improves the efficiency of muscle
glycolysis and high-energy phosphate degradation during
exercise, which may be from increasing the dependence
on anaerobic metabolism. We hypothesize that priming
H. P. Neiva  M. C. Marques  D. A. Marinho
Department of Sport Sciences, University of Beira Interior,
Covilhã, Portugal
H. P. Neiva  M. C. Marques  T. M. Barbosa  D. A. Marinho
Centre for Research in Sport, Health and Human Development,
Vila Real, Portugal
T. M. Barbosa
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological
University, Singapore, Singapore
M. Izquierdo (&)
Department of Health Sciences, Public University of Navarre,
Campus of Tudela. Av. de Tarazona s/n., 31500 Tudela
(Navarre), Spain
e-mail: mikel.izquierdo@gmail.com
Sports Med
DOI 10.1007/s40279-013-0117-y
Author's personal copy
procedures that increase the body temperature optimize
both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism in energy production during exercise.
Published reports also claim that warming up via
physical activity might have some effects beyond the
temperature-related ones. Gray et al. [8] detected a lower
accumulation of muscle lactate during a 30 s sprint on a
cycle ergometer after active warm-up compared with passive warm-up, despite the same starting temperature conditions. It was later confirmed that physical activity
stimulates buffering capacity, maintaining the acid-base
balance of the body [9, 10]. Theoretically, the increased
heart rate after active warm-up [7, 11] and the higher
baseline oxygen consumption at the start of subsequent
practice improve oxygen delivery to the active muscles and
potentiate the aerobic energy system [12]. In addition,
heavy loading activities may induce high-frequency stimulation of motor neurons [13] for several minutes afterwards, and this enhanced motor neuron excitability can
result in a considerable improvement in power production
[14, 15]. The movement required for activity also reduces
muscle stiffness [16] and increases the range of motion of
the muscles involved, possibly allowing for easier, more
efficient action.
Recently, some concerns have been raised about the
effectiveness of the warm-up for enhancing athletic performance and preventing injuries [17–19]. Improvements
in performance ranged from 1 to 20 % in sports such as
cycling [20] and running [21] as well as in specific activities such as vertical jumping [22]. Warm-up also helped
athletes in team sports; players were acutely ready to perform basketball, handball and baseball skills after warm-up
activities [23–25]. Nevertheless, in other cases, performance was impaired after warm-up. The vertical jump
height and gymnastic technical leap performance were
decreased after static stretching exercises [26, 27], running
performance was reduced after high-intensity warm-up
[21] or after a long rest period [11], and cycling performance was impaired after cyclists performed their usually
long warm-up [28].
Scientific research has not demonstrated the efficacy of
warm-up. As a result, athletes and coaches design the
warm-up routines based on their individual experiences.
The combination of a large number of variables, the
complexity of their relationship (e.g. volume, intensity
and recovery interval) and the lack of a standardized
warm-up complicate characterization of warm-up techniques [29]. For example, there is no scientific evidence
of the effectiveness of warm-up in swimming, and
studies have shown ambiguous effects of warm-up on
swimming performance [30–33]. The variability of
research designs (e.g. protocols, outcomes selected,
swimming events, and swimmers’ competitive level)
makes it difficult to compare data. Therefore, the purpose
of the present review is to describe the effects of warmup in swimming performance and to recommend optimized warm-up strategies.
2 Literature Search
The MEDLINE, Scielo, SPORTDiscus, ScienceDirect,
Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar databases
were searched for studies that were published from January
1955 until May 2013 (including electronic publications that
were available ahead of print). This review includes studies
about the effects of warm-up on swimming performance,
which were identified using the following key-terms,
individually and/or combined: ‘warm-up’, ‘warm-up
effects’; ‘priming exercise’; ‘pre-exercise’, ‘prior exercise’,
‘warm-up and performance’ and ‘warm-up and swimming
performance’. Articles were also gathered based on references from other relevant articles. Those articles with
restricted full text online were found in hardcopy form in
library archives.
Studies were included in the review if they fulfilled the
following selection criteria: (i) the studies were written in
English; (ii) they were published in a peer-reviewed journal; (iii) they contained research questions on the effects of
active and/or passive warm-up in swimming; (iv) the main
outcome reported was a physiological (e.g. lactate, temperature, heart rate, or rate of perceived effort), biomechanical (e.g. stroke length, stroke frequency, or force) or
performance (e.g. time and velocity) measure; and
(v) healthy human participants were used. Review articles
(qualitative review, systematic review, and meta-analysis)
were not considered.
In the initial search, 236 studies were identified. After
reading the titles, 59 articles were chosen for abstract
reading. Those that were clearly not relevant or did not
meet inclusion criteria were eliminated. A total of 18 original research studies on the effects of warm-up on
swimming were included in our final analysis (Table 1).
Fifteen studies focused on active warm-up, two studies
focused on passive warm-up, and the remaining study
investigated both types of practices.
Studying warm-up involves a large number of variables
that interact with each other and possibly condition the
results. Because of the risk in separating those variables,
the findings and literature limitations were analyzed after
the papers had been divided up according to active warmup and its sub-items (swim volume, intensity, recovery/rest
interval, and related/non-related warm-up) and passive
warm-up.
H. P. Neiva et al.
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Warm-Up in Competitive Swimming
Author's personal copy
3 Active Warm-Up and Swimming Performance
Active warm-up is any act of exercising, involving specific
and/or non-specific body movements, with the purpose of
increasing metabolic activity and heat production in preparation for an upcoming main activity [17, 34]. Active
warm-up is traditionally the preferred method used by
practitioners and is the most commonly investigated type;
89 % of the studies about warm-up in swimming are about
active warm-up. Improvements were shown only in 67 %
of the 12 studies that compared the use of active warm-up
with no warm-up. Five of these studies showed an
improvement in performance after warm-up, and three
others suggested positive effects in the physiological and
biomechanical changes. The remaining studies did not find
that warm-up had any effect on swimming performance
(Table 1).
The first studies suggested that warm-up allowed the
swimmers to go 1 % faster for short distances (up to 91 m)
[23, 35]. This positive influence was later confirmed for
long distances, with a higher stroke length (*0.07 m)
observed in the final meters of 368.5 m [36] and lower
lactate concentrations (*2 mmol/L) after 200 m of intense
swimming [30]. There were early ideas that priming
exercises are beneficial to performance, but higher peaks in
the lactate concentration after 2 min of high-intensity
swimming (13.66 ± 2.66 vs. 9.53 ± 2.22 mmol/L;
p B 0.05) have been reported [31]. Additionally, Bobo [32]
failed to find significant differences in 91.4 m performance
between three conditions (exercises in the water, dry land
exercises, and no warm-up). The methods used could be
questioned as performance was assessed using a set of five
repetitions of 91.4 m freestyle at maximum intensity. In
addition, beyond comparing the mean times of all repetitions performed, the author analyzed the best repetition
performed, which is similar to a study that tested a single
repetition. A recent study found that usual warm-up leads
to improved 100 m swimming performance, prolonging the
controversy [37].
There have been inconclusive results on a swimmer’s
performance for shorter distances after warm-up. One study
reported that warm-up did not have any favorable effects on
50 m crawl performance [33], while participants in another
study had a trend toward significantly faster times on the
45.7 m freestyle (*0.2 s; p = 0.06) and higher propelling
force with 30 s of maximal tethered swimming (*13 % for
the mean force and 18 % for the maximal force; p B 0.05),
as reported by Balilionis et al. [38] and Neiva et al. [18],
respectively, for warm-up. However, no differences were
found among the other variables measured in these studies
(e.g. perceived exertion, highest post-blood lactate concentration, stroke rate, dive distance and reaction time),
which weakens these findings.
The effects of active warm-up depend on several components such as volume, intensity and recovery time [39,
40]. Some changes in the characteristics of the external
training/warm-up load could be essential to influencing the
subsequent performance and the results obtained. Furthermore, dry-land movements are usually performed before
swimmers enter the pool, and the effects of these movements should not be disregarded. The relevance of these
presented categories and their effects on swimming performance require deeper analysis.
3.1 Dry-Land Warm-Up
Dry-land warm-up is any type of active practice performed
out of the water; dry-land warm-up includes calisthenics,
strength/activation exercises and stretching. Swimmers
often perform some sort of physical activity out of the
water (e.g. arm rotation) before entering the water to
activate the body. However, these exercises are used to
complement and not as an alternative to the in-water warmup. Six studies have focused on the effects of dry-land
warm-up as a different type of active warm-up other than
the usual in-water procedures.
Three studies have shown that the use of calisthenics
exercises does not influence swimming performance compared with the no warm-up condition [23, 35, 41].
Although there were no statistically significant differences,
the results of Romney and Nethery [41] showed that
swimmers were 0.65 s faster in the 91.4 m freestyle with
dry-land warm-up than without warm-up. This difference
corresponds to an increase of 1.23 % in performance,
which can substantially affect a swimming race.
With regard to strength exercises, Bobo [32] found no
differences in the 91.4 m freestyle between no warm-up
and bench press practice. The author claimed that the
amount of weight used may not have been heavy enough to
stimulate the swimmers and may have interfered with the
results. In fact, Kilduff et al. [42] showed no differences in
the 15 m starting time after activation with loaded squats
(3 9 87 % of 1 maximal repetition) compared with inwater warm-up. These weight exercises with a high load
can have positive effects by inducing high-frequency
stimulation of motor neurons [13], resulting in an improved
rate of force production, which has already been confirmed
for explosive efforts [15]. Strength exercises involving
large major muscle groups, with few repetitions and high
loads, could better prepare swimmers for competing.
An interesting method of dry-land exercise was used by
Nepocatych et al. [43] in master swimmers, adapting a
swim bench with an attached vibration device. This
allowed the swimmers to simulate the proper swimming
technique while being exposed to five sets of 1-min
vibrations. The authors found no differences in the 45.7 m
H. P. Neiva et al.
Author's personal copy
freestyle time between the vibrations and in-water warmup. Although they are not easy to apply, developments
could arise from this research, and new alternative warmup procedures should be investigated and applied to higherlevel swimmers.
In most swim meets, there is a considerable time interval
between the in-water warm-up and the swimming event,
diminishing its possible beneficial effects [19]. Moreover,
some facilities do not have an extra swimming pool
available, requiring swimmers to rely on alternatives to inwater warm-up. Dry-land warm-up is a possible warm-up
procedure, which is supported by some studies. It is also
recommended that the whole body should be stimulated
instead of focusing on specific muscle groups. To the
authors’ knowledge, no study on the addition of these
practices to in-water warm-up has been conducted, even
though it could be a method of optimizing the swimmer
latency period between the warm-up and the swimming
event.
Swimmers commonly use stretching exercises, but, to
the best of our knowledge, no study has been conducted on
the effects of stretching on swimming performance.
Additionally, little attention has been given to the question
of stretching as a practice that influences injury risk. By
reducing muscle strain and increasing the range of motion
of joints [1, 44], stretching is expected to reduce the
resistance of movement, allowing for easier movement that
optimizes the activity and prevents muscle and joint injuries. Despite these possible benefits, pre-exercise static
stretching does not produce a reduction in the risk of
overuse injuries [45], and it could lead to a severe loss of
strength and performance impairment [46]. Yet, a decrease
in strength when using dynamic stretching exercises has
not been demonstrated [47], suggesting that stretching may
be part of a warm-up routine if these are usual practices of
the swimmers. Further investigation is needed to determine
the effects of stretching alone as well as in combination
with other warm-up activities.
3.2 In-Water Warm-Up: the Effect of Volume
The acute effects of different warm-up volumes on swimming performance have been previously researched in four
studies; two found positive effects for volumes between
1,000 and 1,500 m compared with a lower volume (i.e.
lower than 200 m). A higher volume (1,371.6 m) allows
the swimmers to maintain higher stroke length (3.76 %) in
the last meters of 365.8 m at *95 % of maximal oxygen
consumption (VO2max), with similar values of blood lactate
concentration and heart rate [36]. This was later corroborated for shorter testing distances, verifying better 45.7 m
performance (1.22 %) after warming up for approximately
1,300 m (men: 1,257 ± 160 m; women: 1,314 ± 109 m)
instead of a 91.44 m warm-up [38]. It is possible that the
lower volume was not sufficient to cause significant metabolic changes during the performance trial. In fact, the
same result was verified by Nepocatych et al. [43] in
master swimmers, with no changes in the 45.7 m freestyle
after two short warm-ups (91.4 m and more than 450 m).
The remaining study on the influence of warm-up volumes did not find differences in the 91.4 m freestyle when
warming up for either 2,011.7 or 4,023.4 m with similar
intensities [48]. Swimmers may expend too much energy
during warm-up, or they may not have enough time after
warm-up to replenish their phosphocreatine and adenosine
triphosphate levels, compromising the energy supply and
negatively affecting their performance. For instance,
swimmers traditionally complete long warm-ups, even for
short races, to achieve greater water sensitivity and to be
better prepared for the competitive event. However, a long
duration of exercise has a higher energy consumption that
can contribute to the early onset of muscle fatigue, especially for high intensities [49].
When subjected to a continuous activity at moderate
intensity, the body increases its temperature and stabilizes
between 10 and 20 min after the start [39]. Although this
time could be set as a rule of thumb, the volume of the
warm-up performed before swimming competitions differs
considerably. The first study on active warm-up verified that
swimming for 110 m or 2.5 min [23] positively affected
swimming performance. The level of the swimmers
(untrained) may explain these positive results with such a
light warm-up volume. With lower physical preparedness, a
shorter volume is required to activate the body to the main
task. A slightly longer warm-up, as required in the study by
De Vries [35], allowed verification of the improvements in
swimming performance of competitive swimmers (457 m).
Nevertheless, the volumes presented were completed in
less than 10 min; this could be the reason why the following studies focused on longer warm-ups. Using the
control condition of no warm-up, the 91.4 and 100 m
freestyle times and a propelling force in 30 s of tethered
swimming were improved after approximately 15 min of
swimming (*1,000) [18, 37, 41]. Moreover, a warm-up of
1,000 m reduced the changes in the acid-base balance after
200 m (2 min) of intense swimming [30].
There are some studies in which performance was
similar or even impaired after warm-up when compared
with the no warm-up condition. There were no differences
in the 91 m freestyle after 731.5 m of moderate swimming
[32] or on the 50 m front crawl after 1,000 m of habitual
warm-up [33]. Some possible reasons for these results are
the time between warm-up and maximal swimming (not
allowing a sufficient time to recover) and/or the volume
and intensity of the warm-up, which most likely were not
sufficient to cause desirable metabolic effects.
Warm-Up in Competitive Swimming
Author's personal copy
We propose a total warm-up volume of a 15–20 min
duration (between 1,000 and 1,500 m) for swimming
events up to 3–4 min. There is a trend toward increasing
the volume of warm-up in the morning. The reasoning
behind this is the need for extra body activation due to
adaptation to the circadian rhythm. However, Arnett [48]
found that the swimmers still perform better on the 91.4 m
in the afternoon even when a longer warm-up (4,023.4 vs.
2,011.7 m) was performed in the morning (58.48 ± 5.69
and 56.86 ± 4.87 s, respectively; p B 0.05). This result
suggests that performance is significantly higher in the late
afternoon, independent of the previous warm-up volume
performed.
3.3 In-Water Warm-Up: the Effect of Intensity
The two studies on the use of different warm-up intensities
in swimming found no effects on performance. Houmard
et al. [36] were the first authors to compare the effects of
two different intensities of priming exercises on performance (*65 % VO2max of continuous swimming vs. warmup including 4 9 45.7 m at *95 % VO2max), and no differences were found in heart rate, stroke length or blood
lactate concentration after 365.8 m front crawl at *95 %
VO2max. Because volume was the same in the two experimental conditions, the study did not use a specific, intensive
set to optimize performance. These conditions may result in
extra energy expenditure and most likely influenced the
concentration of metabolites, thus impairing swimming
performance. In fact, warming up at 110 % VO2max instead
of 70 % VO2max led to elevated lactate concentrations
(13.66 ± 2.66 vs. 9.53 ± 2.22 mmol/L; p B 0.05) after
183 m freestyle at high-intensity [31]. The 5-min recovery
period after warm-up could have been insufficient for
reducing the residual effects of the priming exercises. The
accumulation of lactate was higher after high-intensity
warm-up (6.97 ± 1.97 vs. 2.27 ± 0.81 mmol/L; p B 0.05),
which could have contributed to the higher values obtained
after performance. Additionally, the lower volume performed during the high-intensity warm-up compared with
the low-intensity warm-up did not allow sufficient activation of the aerobic metabolism. However, the heart rate
(159.9 ± 7.7 vs. 148.0 ± 9.5 bpm; p B 0.05) and VO2max
(4.18 ± 0.45 vs. 3.23 ± 0.24 L/min; p B 0.05) after the
warm-up showed cardiovascular alterations that might be
indicative of enhanced aerobic metabolism for the highintensity priming exercises, regardless of the volume
performed.
Despite the uncertainties about including high-intensity
swimming sets in the warm-up procedures, it seems better
to use high-intensity swimming sets instead of not warming
up. Robergs et al. [30] found that lactate concentrations
after 200 m of intensive front crawl swimming were lower
when the warm-up included 4 9 50 m at 111 % VO2max
(8.7 ± 0.8 mmol/L vs. 10.9 ± 0.5 mmol/L; p B 0.05).
Furthermore, including a short-distance swimming set with
increased intensity over the repetitions was effective for
91 m maximal freestyle [41]. The time performed was
reduced by 0.75 s compared with when there was no previous warm-up; thus, short distances at race pace could
optimize performance. Thus, a short-distance set that is
built up from low intensity to race-pace velocity in the last
repetition could be used to improve subsequent performance by stimulating the energy systems that are recruited
in the competitive event [39, 40]. Nevertheless, when highintensity swimming is performed during warm-up, it
should be used with caution to avoid the early fatigue and
compromising the subsequent swimming performance.
3.4 Recovery Time After Warm-Up
Active warm-up seems to improve the performance with
periods of recovery up to 20 min, mainly related to temperature mechanisms [19, 40]. The time gaps between the
end of the in-water warm-up and the start of the competition/
test used in the research studies were 3 min [38, 41], 5 min
[31, 32], 8 min [42], and 10 min [18, 30, 33, 37]. Nevertheless, according to our knowledge, the effect of different
time intervals between warm-up and the main task was only
studied by Zochowski et al. [50] and West et al. [19]. The
200 m times were 1.38 and 1.48 % better with 10-min [50]
and 20-min rest periods [19], respectively, instead of 45 min
of rest. The maintenance of an elevated core temperature
during shorter intervals[19], and the higher heart rate at the
start of exercise which potentially increased baseline oxygen
consumption [50], are the possible mechanisms responsible
for the improved performance. In addition, the post-activation potentiation effect of warm-up, which happens around
the 8th min of recovery [42], possibly allowed swimmers to
start at an optimized power.
In real competition venues, it is almost impossible to
take less than 8–10 min between finishing the warm-up and
the swimming event. Warming up is more effective when it
is sufficiently intense to activate the physiological processes that will be required in the competition event, with a
recovery time that should be between 8 and 20 min,
allowing for replenishment of phosphocreatine [51]. The
literature only focuses on the effects of different intervals
in the 200 m swimming event, and the various competitive
distances and techniques could demand different recovery
periods. Moreover, considering the studies of Saez Saez
Villarreal et al. [15], it would be interesting to know how
different muscle activations (e.g. using high-intensity
exercises or loaded concentric actions) can extend the
effects of warm-up as well as how swimmers can benefit
from improved performance after a longer rest.
H. P. Neiva et al.
Author's personal copy
4 Passive Warm-Up and Swimming Performance
Increases in muscle and core body temperature could be
achieved without physical activity by the use of external
heating, such as hot showers, saunas and heated vests [39].
These practices are commonly known as passive warm-up,
through which the swimmers most likely benefit from the
effects of temperature-related mechanisms without spending energy. A variation in the muscle temperature of 1 C
improves the muscle’s contractile properties and modifies
performance by 2–5 % [52]. Therefore, passive warm-up
could be suggested as a practice for maintaining the temperature between warm-up and the swimming event.
However, heating cannot exceed 39 C for the core temperature, as overheating negatively affects motor drive and
muscular performance [52].
Three studies examined the effects of different passive
procedures on swimming performance with conflicting
results. Carlile [53] demonstrated that swimmers submitting to 8 min of a hot shower or a 10-min massage attained
1 % higher swim velocity in 36.6 m than swimmers
without warm-up procedures. Conversely, De Vries [35]
verified that a 10-min massage did not influence the
91.44 m performance, which was instead positively influenced by active warm-up. Thus, while the first study noted
the positive influence of passive warm-up in swimming
performance, there have been more studies questioning
these results. The applicability of these findings should be
weighed, as several decades have passed from the time
when research occurred. In fact, although there are few
studies about active warm-up in swimming and the findings
are contradictory, the gap is even larger in regard to passive
warm-up. The large range of passive procedures, the
unfamiliarity with some of those techniques and a possible
deviation of attention to active warm-up, which is the most
relevant form of pre-exercise, could be some of the reasons
for this scarcity.
The understanding of the effects of different passive
procedures is also important for optimizing swimming
performance. Two different practices of passive heating
were tested, and a carbonated bath at 36 C was more
effective than a normal bath at the same temperature and
duration of 4 min of kicking exercise [54]. The authors
proposed that this method be adopted by swimmers
because it tends to reduce the lactate concentration, heart
rate and electromyography response of the rectus femoris,
suggesting higher muscle efficiency and less fatigue.
However, the low experience level of swimmers and the
non-existence of comparison with active warm-up, call into
question its efficiency.
Currently, there is no evidence-based information about
the effects of passive warm-up procedures in swimming
performance and the unclear indications cannot support the
reliably of these methods, making them uncommon. However, it is not unusual to see swimmers completely dressed
up (sometimes with a jacket over a sweat suit), near starting
blocks, just before starting the race. The use of external
sources of heating most likely allows the swimmers to
extend the effects of the active warm-up that was performed
some time before. Beyond investigating the effects of passive warm-up, we should try to understand how it could be
used when there is a long resting time after the active warmup or even as a complement to active warm-up.
5 Effect on Different Performance Events
The Olympic competition schedule for swimming includes
distances from 50 to 1,500 m in the pool and 10,000 m in
open-water swimming. As presented in Table 1, swimming
events performed in the pool are the main focus in warm-up
related studies. Corresponding to efforts ranging from less
than 30 s to more than 15 min, it is expected that these
different events are stimulated by different warm-up
approaches as well. Considering the studies that used a
control condition (without warm-up), three of the six studies
that tested swimming distances up to 50 m or the equivalent
effort in time presented better performance after warm-up
[18, 23, 53]. Some uncertainty continues on distances up to
100 m, with three of four studies showing improved performance [35, 37, 41], as well as between the 100 and
200 m, with one of two studies mentioning lower lactate
values and higher heart rate [30]. Times on the distances
above 200 m were improved after warm-up when considering all of the studies presented [23, 36]. Considering that
only submaximal tests were performed and mainly focused
on physiological variables, longer warm-ups should be
indicated when the competition distance is longer.
Table 2 Possible recommendations for active warm-up prior to
competitive swimming
Setting Recommendation
Main suggestions
In-water warm-up Volume 1,000–1,500 m
Moderate intensity
Drills focusing on stroke efficiency
Short distances at race pace
Recovery period 8–20 min
Alternative suggestions
Dry-land warm-up Total body stimulation
Calisthenics—moderate intensity
Strength exercises—short sets, heavy loadsa
Vibration exercises on adapted swim bencha
a Hypothesized only
Warm-Up in Competitive Swimming
Author's personal copy
Researchers have focused mainly on the shorter distances, but the positive effects of warm-up seem more
consistent for distances above 200 m, reinforcing the possible positive effects of aerobic metabolism stimulation
during warm-up procedures. Moreover, the positive changes in performance on distances under 200 m were lower
than 1 % for the time improvement, and it is unclear how
much of this effect was due to warm-up. Caution has to be
taken when studying any measure of performance, and, for
instance, it is important to show by how much that performance measure would be expected to vary day-to-day or
test-to-test. Researchers should be aware of the deficient
knowledge about the effects of warm-up in the different
competition distances and swimming techniques, which
may be due to the existing lack of warm-up specificity.
6 Future Research
Some limitations were found in the literature that researched the topic covered in this review. In fact, it appears that
investigations of warm-up effects on swimming performance were not performed for a few years, resulting in a
lack of research and resulting restrictions. The particular
swimming pool environment, with a high temperature and
humidity, and the complexity of warm-up procedures could
explain why there are few studies on this topic.
Some methodological issues can be observed in the
literature and should be overcome in future research. For
instance, the control group or control condition in the study
design sometimes did not exist, and a standard warm-up
was compared with other variations of it. This methodological issue may be relevant to the analysis of the results
obtained and should be considered in the possible conclusions. Additionally, the small sample sizes used in some of
the studies increased the effects of chance and enhanced
the ambiguity of the results.
Passive warm-up and dry-land exercises should be
deepened as alternative and/or complementary practice for
an active warm-up. Additionally, most of the studies
focused on freestyle swimming, and a study on the warmup effects on different techniques and swimming distances
should be developed. There is a gap in the research on the
influence of the different subject’s ages, gender, and
training status for selecting the proper warm-up. Once
some of these broader issues are clarified, we can evaluate
the structure and specificity of warm-up practices.
7 Conclusions
Warm-up is commonly accepted as fundamental, and any
priming practices are usually considered to optimize
performance. Specifically in swimming, and despite some
contradictory results, research tends to suggest that warmup, more particularly the active type, has a positive effect
on the swimmer’s performance, especially for distances
above 200 m. Additionally, the literature proposes that inwater activities are the most useful activities, but when it is
not possible to do in-water warm-up, dry-land exercises
can be performed as an alternative.
Dry-land warm-up should include all body segments.
Strength exercises with few repetitions and high-load
intensities, vibration stimulation, or the use of calisthenics
are hypothesized to better prepare the swimmer for racing.
Although there are some doubts about using these methods,
some studies found promising results, with no differences
in performance compared with in-water warm-up. Weight
and vibration exercises are not practical to perform before a
swimming event, but calisthenics can be used. Further
investigation is needed to reach a consensus about the use
of alternative methods of warming up and define its ideal
structure in terms of the type, duration, volume, specific
and/or general tasks, and recovery period. Moreover, little
is known about dry-land exercise for maintaining the
effects of the in-water warm-up during the waiting time
before the swimming race. Additionally, the use of
stretching exercises is common among swimmers as a
complement to the in-water warm-up, but the effects are
not known and could even impair performance. Dynamic
stretches are not detrimental to performance, and a daily
routine could be replicated in warm-up procedures to prevent possible injuries.
The in-water warm-up should last for 15–25 min, and
short, intensive, and specific tasks can be performed in
some parts of the warm-up; there are favorable effects after
short distances of progressive swimming up to the racepace velocity. However, one should be cautious because
high-intensity swimming during warm-up can be overvalued and may not be essential to performance optimization. Moreover, some studies presented standard warmups with exclusive lower/upper limb exercises that may
achieve better activation for each body part. A swimming
race is performed using the whole body and splitting
stimulation of the body may not be the best way to increase
the swimmer’s preparedness. The use of technical drills
during warm-up could increase the swimming efficiency in
the first meters by the longer distance per stroke achieved
[37]. The recovery period after warming up should be
balanced so that it is sufficient for energy replenishment
and so that swimmers can benefit from the proposed effects
of warm-up (Table 2).
Because there is a latency period between the in-water
warm-up and the swimming race, passive warm-up should
be considered. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, these
practices could be used to maintain elevated core and
H. P. Neiva et al.
Author's personal copy
muscle temperatures, which are beneficial for swimmers.
Little is known about the best passive practices to implement, but passive exercise could be any method that does
not elevate the temperature above 39 C, which would
otherwise impair performance.
Scientists have recently started to study the effects of
warm-up on swimming performance, but numerous doubts
remain. Not much is known about the structure and components of warm-up even though it is still thought to
influence performance in a sport where a tenth of a second
could determine success or failure. The results highlight
that the volume, intensity and recovery, and specific
exercises of active warm-up are complementary variables.
Any change carried out in one of these characteristics leads
to variations in the others, which can influence the results.
Acknowledgements This work was supported by a grant from the
Science and Technology Foundation (SFRH/BD/74950/2010) and by
University of Beira Interior and Santander Totta bank (UBI/FCSH/
Santander/2010). The authors have no conflicts of interest that are
directly relevant to the content of this review.
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