Swimming Warm-up and Swimming Performance

Swimming Warm-up and Swimming Performance

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Take Home Points on Swimming Warm-up and Swimming Performance

  1. If performing a warm-up, in-water warm-up appears most effective
Warm-up is commonly performed by every swimmer. The role of swarm-up in sprint swimming was discussed recently in best Warm-up for Sprint Swimming Performance. It is believed a warm-up increases muscle temperature, stimulates muscles for performance, decreases the time to achieve peak tension and relaxation, and reduces the viscous resistance of the muscles and joints. Warm-up also leads to increased blood flow, up-regulating blood vessel dilation and increasing muscle oxygenation. Warm-up may also decrease lactate accumulation after a 30 s sprint (Gray 2002). However, lactate accumulation does not always correlate with performance, an important distinction.

Despite evidence suggesting warm-up improves performance, warm-up has also been shown to impair performance (Stewart 1998; Di Cagno 2010).

Now, the literature on swimming warm-up and performance is scarce, making it important to keep the research in mind, then make the best plan possible. The research is rarely crystal clear and swimming warm-up demonstrates this again.

Active Warm-up and Swimming Performance

Active warm-up typically involves specific or non-specific body movements with the purpose of increasing heat. This is the most common form of warm-up. Active warm-ups demonstrated swimming improvements in 67% of the studies comparing an active swimming warm-up to no warm-up.
The effects of active warm-up depend on several components (intensity, volume, recovery, etc.) which make it difficult to control.

Dry-land Warm-up and Swimming Performance

Dry-land warm-up involves performing calisthenics, strength, or stretching outside of the water before a performance. Some feel a dry-land warm-up does not improve performance compared to no warm-up (Romney 1993), but one study demonstrated a 1.23% improvement with a dry-land warm-up (Romney 1993).
Despite theoretical possibility, the use of resistance training before exercise to stimulate motor neurons has not been shown in swimming. Two studies looking at resistance training before swimming demonstrated no differences in swimming or starting performance (Kilduff 2011).
Many competitions have a period between in water warm-up and swimming performance. Swimmers typically fill this void with dry-land warm-up, yet no studies have looked at this appropriateness.
Stretching is another modality commonly used before swimming. Unfortunately, other athletic studies have demonstrated static stretching (for less than 30 seconds) likely impairs performance see Friday Interview: Dr. David Behm Discusses Stretching). However, specific studies on swimming have yet to be performed.

How Much Swimming Warm-up Improves Performance?

Swimming volume is one manipulated variable for swimming warm-up. Two studies found positive effects for volumes between 1,000 and 1,500 m (Houmard 1991; Balilionis 2012). Other studies have found no difference between warm-up volumes (Arnett 2002).
Some studies have found impaired performance after sprint swimming warm-up (Neiva 2012). This may be due to depleting the body energy during warm-up.
Overall, Neiva (2013) suggests a 15 – 20 minute warm-up (between 1,000 – 1,500 m) for events up to 3 – 4 minutes. Warm-up in the morning may need longer duration to increase body temperature.
Neiva (2015) had eleven male swimmers (~58.9 seconds in 100-m freestyle best time) perform three trials a warm-up at 1,200-m (WU), 1,800-m (LWU), and 600-m (SWU). The swimmers were 1.46 ± 1.54% and 1.34 ± 1.24% faster after the WU and SWU, respectively, compared with the LWU. In addition, the first 50-m lap time was different between conditions.

What Swimming Warm-up Intensity Maximizes Performance?

Few studies have analyzed different swimming warm-up intensities. Houmard found no difference between warming up a 65% or 95% VO2max (Houmard 1991). However, other studies have found warming-up at 110% of VO2max increases lactate concentrations after a 200-yard race (Mitchell 1993).

A warm-up should be intense to increase body temperature, but not overly fatigue the swimmer. The rest between warm-up and the race must also be considered.

How Much to Recover After Warm-up?

Two studies have compared different lengths between warm-up and competition. The 200 -m times were 1.38 and 1.48% improved between with a 10-min or 20-min rest period, compared to a 45 min rest (West 2013; Zochowski 2007). This may be from the post-activation potentiation of warm-up.
Studies have only analyzed the 200-m freestyle, but it seems a rest period of 8 – 20 minutes is ideal for warm-up and competition.

Does Passive Swimming Warm-up Help Swimming Performance?

Body temperature is manipulated by many mechanisms, including heat packs, saunas, and showers. It is believed increasing muscle temperature by 1 degrees Celsius improves performance by 2 – 5% (Racinais 2010).
Carlilie (1956) found a positive effect of a hot shower or a 10-minute massage, where De Vries did not find any improvement with a 10-m massage (1959) (see Does Massage Improve Soreness?).
More randomized studies are clearly needed on this subject, as many swimmers perform these practices.

Warm-up for Different Races

Different races clearly require different warm-ups, as different distances have different intensities and metabolic demands. It seems warm-up is beneficial for races 200-m and longer, and likely beneficial for 100-m races. More studies are necessary on the 50-m race. It is also important to consider the day-to-day or test-to-test variations (Neiva 2013).


If performing a warm-up, in-water warm-up appears most effective. When water is not available, dry-land exercises can be used as an alternative (Functional Swimming Warm-up). More studies are necessary for determining if the 50-m does require a warm-up, or if day-to-day variability has resulted in some of the negative warm-up effects.
  1. Neiva HP, Marques MC, Barbosa TM, Izquierdo M, Marinho DA. Warm-Up and Performance in Competitive Swimming. Sports Med. 2013 Nov 1. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Gray SC, Devito G, Nimmo MA. Effect of active warm-up on metabolism prior to and during intense dynamic exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Dec;34(12):2091-6.
  3. Stewart IB, Sleivert GG. The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998 Feb;27(2):154-61.
  4. Di Cagno A, Baldari C, Battaglia C, Gallotta MC, Videira M, Piazza M, Guidetti L. Preexercise static stretching effect on leaping performance in elite rhythmic gymnasts. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Aug;24(8):1995-2000. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e34811.
  5. Romney RC, Nethery VM. The effects of swimming and dryland warm-ups on 100-yard freestyle performance in collegiate swimmers. Journal of Swimming Research,1993; 9, 5-9.
  6. Kilduff LP, Cunningham DJ, Owen NJ, West DJ, Bracken RM, Cook CJ. Effect of postactivation potentiation on swimming starts in international sprint swimmers.
  7. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):2418-23. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318201bf7a.
  8. Houmard JA, Johns RA, Smith LL, Wells JM, Kobe RW, McGoogan SA. The effect of warm-up on responses to intense exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1991 Oct;12(5):480-3.
  9. 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.
  10. Arnett MG. Effects of prolonged and reduced warm-ups on diurnal variation in body temperature and swim performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 May;16(2):256-61
  11. Neiva HP, Marques MC, Fernandes RJ, Viana JL, Barbosa TM, Marinho DA. Does Warm-Up Have a Beneficial Effect on 100m Freestyle? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Apr 9. [Epub ahead of print]
  12. Neiva Hp, Morouco PG, Pereira FM. The effect of warm-up in 50 m swimming performance. Motricidade. 2012; 8 (S1): 13-18.
  13. Mitchell JB, Huston JS.The effect of high- and low-intensity warm-up on the physiological responses to a standardized swim and tethered swimming performance.J Sports Sci. 1993 Apr;11(2):159-65.
  14. Houmard JA, Johns RA, Smith LL, Wells JM, Kobe RW, McGoogan SA. The effect of warm-up on responses to intense exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1991 Oct;12(5):480-3.
  15. West DJ, Dietzig BM, Bracken RM, Cunningham DJ, Crewther BT, Cook CJ, Kilduff LP. Influence of post-warm-up recovery time on swim performance in international swimmers. J Sci Med Sport. 2013 Mar;16(2):172-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2012.06.002. Epub 2012 Jul 11.
  16. Zochowski T, Johnson E, Sleivert GG. Effects of varying post-warm-up recovery time on 200-m time-trial swim performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007 Jun;2(2):201-11.
  17. Racinais S, Oksa J. Temperature and neuromuscular function. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Oct;20 Suppl 3:1-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01204.x. Review.
  18. Calile F. Effect of preliminary passive warming on swimming performance. Res Q Exerc Sport, 1956; 27(2):143-51
  19. De Vries HA. Effects of various warm-up procedures on 100-yard times of competitive swimmers. Res Q. 1959; 30: 11-22.

Originally Posted May 2017

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