Warm-Up and Performance in Competitive Swimming


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 warm-up, 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 warm-up 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).

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Ekstrand J, Gillquist J, Liljedahl SO. Prevention of soccer injuries: supervision by doctor and physiotherapist. Am J Sports Med. 1983;11:116–20.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    De Bruyn-Prevost P. The effects of various warming up intensities and durations upon some physiological variables during an exercise corresponding to the WC170. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1980;43(2):93–100.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Segal SS, Faulkner JA, White TP. Skeletal muscle fatigue in vitro is temperature dependent. J Appl Physiol. 1986;61(2):660–5.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Wright V. Stiffness: a review of its measurement and physiological importance. Physiotherapy. 1973;59(4):107–11.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Gray SC, Nimmo MA. Effects of active, passive or no warm-up on metabolism and performance during short-duration high-intensity exercise. J Sport Sci. 2001;19:693–700.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Pearson J, Low DA, Stöhr E, et al. Hemodynamic responses to heat stress in the resting and exercising human leg: insight into the effect of temperature on skeletal muscle blood flow. Am J Phys Regul Integr Comp Phys. 2011;300(3):R663–73.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Febbraio MA, Carey MF, Snow RJ, et al. Influence of elevated muscle temperature on metabolism during intense, dynamic exercise. Am J Physiol. 1996;271(5 Pt 2):R1251–5.

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Gray SC, De Vito G, Nimmo MA. Effect of active warm-up on metabolism prior to and during intense dynamic exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(12):2091–6.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Beedle BB, Mann CL. A comparison of two warm-ups on joint range of motion. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(3):776–9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Mandengue SH, Seck D, Bishop D, et al. Are athletes able to self-select their optimal warm up? J Sci Med Sport. 2005;8(1):26–34.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Andzel WD. The effects of moderate prior exercise and varied rest intervals upon cardiorespiratory endurance performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1978;18(3):245–52.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Burnley M, Davison G, Baker JR. Effects of priming exercise on VO2 kinetics and the power-duration relationship. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(11):2171–9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    French DN, Kraemer WJ, Cooke CB. Changes in dynamic exercise performance following a sequence of preconditioning isometric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(4):678–85.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Sale DG. Postactivation potentiation: role in human performance. Exerc Sport Rev. 2002;30:138–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Saez Saez de Villarreal E, González-Badillo JJ, Izquierdo M. Optimal warm-up stimuli of muscle activation to enhance short and long-term acute jumping performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007;100(4):393–401.

  16. 16.

    Proske U, Morgan DL, Gregory JE. Thixotropy in skeletal muscle and in muscle spindles: a review. Prog Neurobiol. 1993;41(6):705–21.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Med. 2007;37(12):1089–99.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Neiva H, Morouço P, Silva AJ, et al. The effect of warm up on tethered front crawl swimming forces. J Hum Kinet. 2011;29A(Spec Iss):113–119.

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    West DJ, Dietzig BM, Bracken RM, et al. Influence of post-warm-up recovery time on swim performance in international swimmers. J Sci Med Sport. 2013;16(2):172–6.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Burnley M, Doust JH, Jones AM. Effects of prior warm-up regime on severe-intensity cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005;37:838–45.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Stewart IB, Sleivert GG. The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998;27:154–61.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Burkett LN, Phillips WT, Ziuraitis J. The best warm-up for the vertical jump in college-age athletic men. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19:673–6.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Thompson H. Effect of warm-up upon physical performance in selected activities. Res Q. 1958;29(2):231–46.

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Dumitru DC. The importance of a specific warm-up on the performance of the handball goalkeeper. J Phys Ed Sport. 2010;28(3):23–31.

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Szymanski DJ, Beiser EJ, Bassett KE, Till ME, Medlin GL, Beam JR, DeRenne C. Effect of various warm-up devices on bat velocity of intercollegiate baseball players. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(2):287–92.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    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;24(8):1995–2000.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Bradley PS, Olsen PD, Portas MD. The effect of static, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21:223–6.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Tomaras EK, MacIntosh BR. Less is more: standard warm-up causes fatigue and less warm-up permits greater cycling power output. J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(1):228–35.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Fradkin AJ, Zaryn TR, Smoliga JM. Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(1):140–8.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Robergs RA, Costill DL, Fink WJ, et al. Effects of warm-up on blood gases, lactate and acid-base status during sprint swimming. Int J Sports Med. 1990;11(4):273–8.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    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;11(2):159–65.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Bobo M. The effect of selected types of warm-up on swimming performance. Int Sports J. 1999;3(2):37–43.

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Neiva HP, Morouço PG, Pereira FM, et al. The effect of warm-up in 50 m swimming performance. Motricidade. 2012;8(S1):13–18.

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Shellock FG, Prentice WE. Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Med. 1985;2(4):267–78.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    De Vries HA. Effects of various warm-up procedures on 100-yard times of competitive swimmers. Res Q. 1959;30:11–22.

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Houmard JA, Johns RA, Smith LL, et al. The effect of warm-up on responses to intense exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1991;12(5):480–3.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Neiva HP, Marques MC, Fernandes RJ, Viana JL, Barbosa TM, Marinho DA. Does warm-up have a beneficial effect on 100 m freestyle? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. Epub 9 Apr 2013

  38. 38.

    Balilionis G, Nepocatych S, Ellis CM, et al. Effects of different types of warm-up on swimming performance, reaction time, and dive distance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(12):3297–303.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Bishop D. Warm up I: potential mechanisms and the effects of passive warm up on exercise performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(6):439–54.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Bishop D. Warm up II: performance changes following active warm up and how to structure the warm up. Sports Med. 2003;33(7):483–98.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Romney NC, Nethery VM. The effects of swimming and dryland warm-ups on 100-yard freestyle performance in collegiate swimmers. J Swim Res. 1993;9:5–9.

    Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Kilduff LP, Cunningham DJ, Owen NJ, et al. Effect of postactivation potentiation on swimming starts in international sprint swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(9):2418–23.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Nepocatych S, Bishop PA, Balilionis G, et al. Acute effect of upper-body vibration on performance in master swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(12):3396–403.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Hadala M, Barrios C. Different strategies for sports injury prevention in an America’s Cup Yachting Crew. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:1587–96.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Pope RP, Herbert RD, Kirwan JD, et al. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32:271–7.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Winchester JB, Nelson AG, Landin D, et al. Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(1):13–9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Hough PA, Ross EZ, Howatson G. Effects of dynamic and static stretching on vertical jump performance and electromyographic activity. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(2):507–12.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Arnett MG. Effects of prolonged and reduced warm-ups on diurnal variation in body temperature and swim performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16(2):256–61.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Hawley JA, Williams MM, Hamling GC, et al. Effects of a task-specific warm-up on anaerobic power. Br J Sports Med. 1989;23(4):233–6.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    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;2(2):201–11.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Özyener F, Rossiter HB, Ward SA, et al. Influence of exercise intensity on the on- and off-transient kinetics of pulmonary oxygen uptake in humans. J Phys. 2001;533(Pt 3):891–902.

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Racinais S, Oksa J. Temperature and neuromuscular function. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(Suppl 3):1–18.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Carlile F. Effect of preliminary passive warming on swimming performance. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1956;27(2):143–51.

    Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Akamine T, Taguchi N. Effects of an artificially carbonated bath on athletic warm-up. J Hum Ergol. 1998;27(1–2):22–9.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mikel Izquierdo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Neiva, H.P., Marques, M.C., Barbosa, T.M. et al. Warm-Up and Performance in Competitive Swimming. Sports Med 44, 319–330 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0117-y

Download citation


  • Swimming Performance
  • Front Crawl
  • Passive Procedure
  • Swimming Event
  • Priming Exercise