swimming warm-up timing

Swimming Warm-Up Timing

admin Allan Phillips, Blog Leave a Comment

One important question we haven’t specifically addressed is “How long should the warm-up end before the race?” Intuitively we know that going straight from a warm-up session to the blocks may provide insufficient recovery for a max effort.  Likewise, whatever benefits we derive from a warm-up may evaporate if the warm up ends too long before the race.  How short is too short and how long is too long?

First, it’s clear that reality will often trump idealism.  Some meets are conducted with only a mass warm-up before the meet, and no opportunities for in-water warm-up once racing beings.  When you do get in the pool faster swimming is often impossible due to the seventeen other swimmers in your lane.  So despite what the research is, reality may require adjustments (That said, everyone is equally burdened by suboptimal conditions, so complaining is fruitless!).

One recent study (West 2013) tackled this issue directly with a group of eight male “international level” swimmers comparing a twenty minute waiting period with a forty five minute waiting period before a 200-m freestyle time trial.  The study tracked core temperature, blood lactacte, heart rate, perceived exertion, and event time.  Results indicated 1.5% better performances after the 20 minute waiting period compared to the 45 minute waiting period.  Authors attributed the difference to maintaining core temperature, as most other metrics where not significantly different between the two studies.  The only other difference was that blood lactate was higher in the twenty minute waiting condition immediately after the TT and three minutes after the TT.

Zochowski (2007) found similar results comparing a 10 minute waiting period to a 45 minute waiting period for both male and female swimmers.  200-m time trial results in all four strokes were 1.4% faster after the 10 minute waiting period compared to the 45 minute condition.  Authors also found that pre-time trial heart rate was higher after the ten minute condition compared with the 45 minute condition (109 bpm vs 94 bpm).  In sum, both studies revealed physiological evidence of the body winding down as time passed.

Frequently swimmers race multiple events in a meet, so a more common scenario may be multiple races separated by multiple warm-ups and cooldowns.  Are there any guidelines for that scenario?  In a study previously reviewed here, Toubekis (2008) studied swimmers in two 100-m time trials separated by fifteen minutes.  After experimenting with several active and passive recovery variations, results showed that five minutes active recovery during this fifteen minute period was the superior strategy compared to ten minutes active recovery and any duration of passive recovery.

Similarly, Felix (1997) studied ten female D-III swimmers in two 200m time trials separated by fourteen minutes with three different recovery conditions: active swimming, rowing, and passive recovery.  Active recovery lasted ten minutes separated by two minute blocks from the first and second time trial.  Both active recovery conditions yielded better performance in the second time trial as compared to passive recovery.

Though excess delay between warmup and competition may be detrimental, insufficient recovery between hard efforts may impair performance.  Toubekis (2005) put swimmers through an 8 x 25m sprint workout followed by a 50m maximal effort sprint five minutes later.  Recovery between 25m efforts ranged from 45 seconds to 120 seconds of active or passive recovery.  Despite other research showing that a period of active recovery is beneficial during long waits, active recovery between 25m repeats not only slowed subsequent repeats in that set, it also impaired 50m sprint times.


Most likely this research confirms what most coaches and athletes observe intuitively: some break is needed between the warm-up and the race, but waiting too long will be detrimental to performance.  If racing multiple events, a brief period of active recovery is preferred over passive recovery.  However, it is also possible that slow, sloppy stroke mechanics during recovery swims may infect motor programming for subsequent races in the meet, which may validate the use of active dryland recoveries.

If you can’t get back in the water, the most important qualities to preserve are body temperature and heart rate.  Keep parkas and sweats handy and perform a light dry-land warm-up before/between events if you can’t get in the water for a true warm up.


    1. Toubekis AG, Tsolaki A, Smilios I, Douda HT, Kourtesis T, Tokmakidis SP.  Swimming performance after passive and active recovery of various durations.  Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2008 Sep;3(3):375-86.
    2. 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.
    3. Zochowski T, Johnson E, Sleivert GG. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007 Jun;2(2):201-11.Effects of varying post-warm-up recovery time on 200-m time-trial swim performance.
    4. Toubekis, A. G., Douda, H. T., & Tokmakidis, S. P. (2005). Influence of different rest intervals during active or passive recovery on repeated sprint swimming performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 93, 694-700.
    5. Felix, S. D., Manos, T. M., Jarvis, A. T., Jensen, B. E., & Headley, S.A. (1997). Swimming performance following different recovery protocols in female collegiate swimmers. Journal of Swimming Research, 12, 1-6.

By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics

Originally posted 4/2013.

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