active warm-ups

Active Warm-ups: How active warm-up boosts performance

Given the amount of importance that athletes and their coaches ascribe to the pre-exercise warm-up, there has been surprisingly little research into whether, and by how much, it actually improves performance. But now a new study has demonstrated that an active warm-up can boost subsequent endurance performance by as much as 3% and that (surprisingly) the intensity of the warm-up appears to make no difference to the degree of performance improvement.

The study examined the effects of two different intensities of warm- up on 3k cycling time trial performances. Eight well-trained road cyclists performed randomly ordered time trials after the following warm-up conditions:

  • No warm-up (the ‘control’ condition);
  • Easy warm-up – 15 minutes, made up of five-minute segments at power outputs of 70, 80 and 90% of ventilatory threshold (the point during incremental exercise where lactate begins to build up in the bloodstream marked by a rapid increase in breathing rate), followed by two minutes’ rest;
  • Hard warm-up – the same five-minute segments, plus three minutes at the respiratory compensation threshold (a higher intensity of exercise marked by the onset of hyperventilation), followed by six minutes’ rest.

The dynamics of oxygen uptake, power output and the contributions of the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems to the effort were measured throughout each time trial.

Key results were as follows:

  • 3k time trial performance was improved after both easy and hard warm-ups – 266.8 seconds and 267.3 seconds respectively, compared with 274.4 seconds after no warm-up;
  • The gain in performance after both active warm-up conditions was mostly during the first 1,000m, reflecting higher early power outputs than after no warm-up;
  • Oxygen uptake was significantly greater after the active warm-ups than after no warm-up;
  • There were no differences in anaerobic power output during the trials, but aerobic power output during the first 1,000m was larger after the active warm-ups than after no warm-up.

The authors went on to conclude that the pre-exercise warm-up led to a significant performance enhancement of about 2-3%, which seems to be associated with boosted aerobic efficiency rather than a sparing of anaerobic energetic sources.

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2005; vol 37, no 9, 1608-1614

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