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Take Home Points on the Best Warm-up for Sprint Swimming Performance

  1. Regular warm-up is the best warm-up for sprint swimming performance, for most.
  2. No warm-up or a short warm-up may best the best warm-up for some swimmers.
  3. Individual warm-up protocols are necessary for sprint swimming performance.
Warm-up (WU) is performed by nearly all swimmers with the goal of increasing heart rate (HR), blood flow, body temperature, and preparing the body for competition/practice. However, many swimmers use an extremely long WU compared to their race distance, potentially causing fatigue. A highly pertinent study looked at what was the best warm-up for sprint swimming performance.

What was done

Sixteen NCAA Division 1 swimmers (M=8, F=8; ~19.9 years; mean male time ~21.96 s, mean female time ~24.35 s) used three WUs before performing a 50-yard freestyle time trial. The three warm-ups were

  1. No WU
  2. Short WU (50-yard at 40% of max and 50-yard at 90% max)
  3. Regular WU (~1300 m)


The mean 50-yard time was significantly faster after the regular WU when compared to the short WU. However, individual data indicated 19% of the participants performed their best 50-yard after a short WU, 37% after no WU, and 44% after regular WU.

HR was significantly higher after regular WU, compared to no WU. No differences were noted in reaction time, rating of perceived exertion post 50-yard, dive distance, or stroke count across the different trials.


Regular WU increases HR more than no WU and causes significantly better times than a short WU. However, the principle of individuality is key, as some athletes performed best times with short or no WU [very surprising, as these were not the swimmers typical WU approach and novelty typically hinders performance].

Practical Implication

The average regular WU is more likely to be the ideal WU for NCAA Division 1 swimmers. However, no WU or a short WU may benefit up to 50% of these swimmers. A variety of WU variations is necessary to determine which WU is ideal for 50-yard performance, as one would expect the fastest time with their accustomed WU, no matter the distance. These findings are extremlely interesting, as many coaches wonder about an ideal WU protocol if no WU pool is available. For some swimmers, no WU pool may maximize performance. 

In the future, out of water dynamic stretching protocols should be compared, as it seems 5 – 10 minutes of dynamic stretching improves running performance, swimming studies are needed (Turki 2011).


  1. Balilionis G, Nepocatych S, Ellis CM, Richardson MT, Neggers YH, Bishop PA. Effects of different types of warm-up on swimming performance, reaction time, and dive distance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec;26(12):3297-303. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318248ad40.
  2. Turki O, Chaouachi A, Drinkwater EJ, Chtara M, Chamari K, Amri M, Behm DG.Ten minutes of dynamic stretching is sufficient to potentiate vertical jump performance characteristics. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):2453-63. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31822a5a79. 
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the founder of Mullen Physical Therapy, owner of COR PT, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer’s Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.

Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS world-renowned physical therapist and strength coach.
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