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Effect of Different Warm-Up Procedures on Subsequent Swim and Overall Sprint Distance Triathlon Performance

Binnie, Martyn J.1,2; Landers, Grant2; Peeling, Peter1,2

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 9 - p 2438–2446
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f29c6
Original Research
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Binnie, MJ, Landers, G, and Peeling, P. Effect of different warm-up procedures on subsequent swim and overall sprint distance triathlon performance. J Strength Cond Res 26(9): 2438–2446, 2012—This study investigated the effect of 3 warm-up procedures on subsequent swimming and overall triathlon performance. Seven moderately trained, amateur triathletes completed 4 separate testing sessions comprising 1 swimming time trial (STT) and 3 sprint distance triathlons (SDT). Before each SDT, the athletes completed 1 of three 10-minute warm-up protocols including (a) a swim-only warm-up (SWU), (b) a run-swim warm-up (RSWU), and (c) a control trial of no warm-up (NWU). Each subsequent SDT included a 750-m swim, a 500-kJ (∼20 km) ergometer cycle and a 5-km treadmill run, which the athletes performed at their perceived race intensity. Blood lactate, ratings of perceived exertion, core temperature, and heart rate were recorded over the course of each SDT, along with the measurement of swim speed, swim stroke rate, and swim stroke length. There were no significant differences in individual discipline split times or overall triathlon times between the NWU, SWU, and RSWU trials (p > 0.05). Furthermore, no difference existed between trials for any of the swimming variables measured (p > 0.05) nor did they significantly differ from the preliminary STT (p > 0.05). The findings of this study suggest that warming up before an SDT provides no additional benefit to subsequent swimming or overall triathlon performance.

1Western Australian Institute of Sport, Mt Claremont, Australia

2School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia

Address correspondence to Martyn J. Binnie, mbinnie@wais.org.au.

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Introduction

Recent research has highlighted the importance of swimming in relation to overall triathlon performance (22,27,28). Specifically, a positive and significant relationship has been reported between race position in the early stages of the swim and overall race outcome (27). The exercise intensity during this early stage of a race is elevated as athletes contest for a position in the lead swimming pack, and because of race tactics such as drafting (2,8), it is common that this lead group of athletes will exit the water first and gain a significant advantage in the subsequent cycling leg (27,28). Therefore, it is apparent that an improved performance in this early stage of the race may have a significant influence on positioning throughout the remainder of a triathlon race. One potential mechanism to improve early swimming performance that is to date, relatively uninvestigated, is the efficacy of a prerace warm-up.

The ‘warm-up’ is widely accepted as an established method of both mentally and physically preparing the body for competition and can be classified as either passive or active in nature (4). A passive warm-up is a method of increasing both core (Tc) and muscle temperature (Tm) without depleting the body's energy stores and is achieved via an external stimulus (i.e., a sauna, hot shower, or heat pads, etc.). An active warm-up, however, is a dynamic warming of the body via exercise and is likely the preferred warm-up method, because it offers metabolic and cardiovascular changes that are beneficial to performance (4). Most performance benefits after an active warm-up arise from physiological changes such as an increased Tm and an elevation of baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2 (3,4,29). Additionally, further benefits have been shown when an active warm-up is specific to the ensuing activity (10,11,17,23,25). Recent research has demonstrated that any beneficial changes in V[Combining Dot Above]O2 kinetics (i.e., a reduction of the V[Combining Dot Above]O2 slow component) achieved during exercise may be greater when prior exercise is performed by the same muscle group (23,25). Therefore, a task-specific warm-up may localize the performance benefits to the muscles required, while also providing a rehearsal of the motor patterns to be subsequently used (4). In addition, a warm-up including race intensity-specific bursts of activity can increase the level of neuromuscular activation and force generating capacity within the active muscle (11,25). To date, however, the majority of research has focused on the acute application of warm-up specificity to improve short-term performance. Despite this, an appropriate warm-up may have practical implications for intermediate or endurance events requiring a near maximal effort in the early stages of a race, provided that the warm-up does not result in undue fatigue (4).

Additionally, it is also important to ensure that the warm-up performed before an endurance event does not cause a detrimental increase in Tc (4), because a major factor limiting endurance performance has been suggested as the attainment of a ‘critical Tc’ (6,12). Consequently, previous research has demonstrated that commencing exercise at a lower Tc allows for an increased intensity or duration of effort before a critical Tc is reached (6,12). Therefore, it might be suggested that a swimming-based warm-up may be advantageous before an endurance event, because the convective heat transfer properties of water are far superior to that of still air (18), and an attenuation of increases to Tc may be experienced during such a warm-up in comparison to running- or cycling-based activity.

To this end, the purpose of this investigation was to look at the effect of a triathlon-specific warm-up on subsequent swimming and overall race performance in a laboratory-simulated sprint distance triathlon (SDT). It was hypothesized that an active warm-up would be more beneficial than no warm-up (NWU) at all; however, it was also suggested that warm-up specificity, in the form of intensity-specific bursts of swimming, may lead to an enhanced performance in the swim. Furthermore, it was also predicted that a swimming-based warm-up would help to attenuate any increase in prerace Tc experienced, thereby providing a thermoregulatory advantage in the later stages of the SDT.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

This study was separated into 2 parts (parts A and B). Part A of the study was the distribution of a questionnaire, designed to gain a greater understanding of common and currently practiced warm-up procedures before triathlon competition. The questionnaire was handed out at 3 separate events during the Western Australian summer triathlon season. The questionnaire asked the respondent to comment on such factors as warm-up intensity, duration, recovery time, the mode of exercise performed, and the order in which this was completed. The results disseminated from this questionnaire were used to design the warm-up procedures that were investigated in part B of this research study.

For part B of the study, the athletes were required to complete 3 SDTs, each preceded by a different warm-up protocol. The 3 warm-up conditions included a control trial of NWU, a swim-only warm-up (SWU), and a run-swim warm-up (RSWU), allowing for the comparison of warm-up type (active vs. passive) and modality (swim vs. run) on subsequent swimming and overall SDT performance. In addition, physiological variables including blood lactate (BLa), heart rate (HR), ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and Tc were measured throughout each trial to further examine any differences observed between the warm-up conditions.

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Part A—Preliminary Questionnaire

Subjects

Sixty-five athletes (57 men and 8 women) completed the preliminary questionnaire regarding their standard warm-up routine before competing in a triathlon. The participants were informed of the requirements and risks associated with their involvement in this questionnaire, before written consent acknowledging these details was obtained. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for the use of human subjects during this investigation was granted by The University of Western Australia's Human Research Ethics Committee (IRB # RA/4/3/1535). The average age of the questionnaire respondents was 26 ± 8.3 years, and this represented a wide range of triathlon experience.

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Results

The majority of respondents reported performing a warm-up of ≤10 minutes at a perceived moderate or low intensity (96.9%), followed by a recovery time of ≤10 minutes (67.2%). Only 18.5% of respondents reported doing a swim-only warm-up. The majority (72.5%) of athletes included running in their warm-up, with 59.6% of these also including swimming. The swim component of the warm-up was always completed last. Furthermore, cycling was the least practiced exercise mode, with only 21.5% of respondents including it in their warm-up. Almost all respondents (95%) incorporated static stretching into their warm-up, mostly completing it before (33.8%) or during (40%) the warm-up period.

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Part B—Warm-Up Effects on Triathlon Performance

Subjects

Seven moderately trained, amateur triathletes with an average age of 21 ± 4.4 years were recruited for participation in this investigation. All the subjects were recruited from the same training squad and shared 2–3 years of competition experience at a state level. At the time of this investigation, all the subjects were in the competition phase of their training cycle, and there was a 2-week washout period from their last competition. The participants were informed of the requirements and risks associated with their involvement in this study, before written consent acknowledging these details was obtained. The IRB approval for the use of human subjects during this investigation was granted by The University of Western Australia's Human Research Ethics Committee (IRB # RA/4/1/2440).

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Procedures

Overview

Before the commencement of testing, the athletes were instructed to refrain from consuming alcohol and caffeine or from participating in any intensive exercise for a period of 24 hours. The participants were also strongly encouraged to record and replicate their nutritional habits during the 12 hours before each SDT trial. Furthermore, it was requested that no food or beverage be consumed within 2 hours of each trial other than water, which was also allowed ad libitum throughout each SDT trial, up to a maximum of 1 standard sized drink bottle (600 ml). No other food or beverage was allowed throughout the testing protocol. A minimum of 48 hours was allocated for recovery time between testing sessions, and the athletes attended the laboratory at the same time of the day to avoid any diurnal influences of circadian rhythm. All swimming took place in a 13-lane, 25-m outdoor pool, heated at 29 ± 0.1° C. Cycling was conducted on a wind braked cycle ergometer (Evolution Pty Ltd., Adelaide, Australia) located in the exercise laboratory. All running was conducted on a motorized treadmill (Nury Tec VR3000, Seoul, South Korea), which was placed in the same laboratory. The exercise laboratory had an average temperature of 21.4 ± 1.5° C (49.7 ± 5.6% RH) throughout the trials. The average outdoor temperature during the swim section of the experimental trials was 15.5 ± 5.4° C (53.0 ± 18.4%RH).

The experimental protocol required athletes to complete 4 separate testing sessions, including a swimming time trial (STT), and 3 simulated SDT. Each SDT was performed at the individual's perceived race intensity and consisted of a 750-m swim, a 500 kJ (∼20 km) cycle, and a 5-km run. Each SDT was preceded by a different warm-up protocol, determined from the responses gathered from the preliminary questionnaire. These 3 warm-up protocols were conducted in a counterbalanced order and included the following:

No Warm-Up: In this trial, the athletes were required to sit down in the exercise laboratory for 2 × 5 minutes blocks, separated by 2 minutes of self-selected static stretching of at least 3 different muscle groups. The athletes were encouraged to keep the chosen stretches consistent between warm-up conditions.

Swim Warm-Up: The athletes were required to complete 2 × 250-m swim sets, separated by 2 minutes of self-selected static stretching of at least 3 different muscle groups. The athletes were given 5 minutes to complete each swim set that consisted of 150 m at 85% of the individual's STT pace, followed by 4 × 25 m on a 30-second departure time. For each 25-m effort, the athletes were instructed to ‘intensity build’ their effort, from a slow pace up to a maximum time-trial pace.

Run-Swim Warm-Up: In this trial, the athletes were required to run for 5 minutes, complete 2 minutes of self-selected static stretching of at least 3 different muscle groups and then swim for 5 minutes. The running set consisted of 800 m at 70% max HR (HRmax: 220 − Age × 0.7), and 4 × 60 m on a 30-second departure time, with the intensity built over each repetition. For the 800-m run, each athlete was given an HR strap and receiver to wear so that they could track and modify their pace based on their HR target. The swim set in this warm-up was the same as 1 repeat of the 250-m set in the swim only warm-up (150 m at 85% STT pace, followed by 4 × 25 m on a 30-second departure time).

Before, and at the completion of each warm-up protocol, the athletes' Tc, BLa, RPE, and HR were collected. Subsequent to each warm-up, a 5 minutes' recovery period was allowed before the commencement of the SDT.

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Experimental Protocols

Swim Time Trial

Before the STT, the athletes completed the same swim warm-up as that to be used in the SWU condition. A 5-minute rest period followed this warm-up, after which the STT was commenced. During the STT, the athletes were instructed to swim the 750 m in the fastest time possible. Various measures were recorded over this duration including swim time (ST), swim stroke rate (SSR), and swim stroke length (SSL). The ST was recorded for each 250 m, and swim stroke mechanics were recorded in the last 20 m of each 100-m split, with a final measurement taken in the last 20 m of the swimming leg. The first 5 m of the 25-m lap were excluded from the analysis to account for individual differences in glide length in and out of each turn. The SSR was determined as the number of arm cycles each minute and was expressed in units of cycles·per minute. The SSL (meters per cycle) was calculated by dividing the 20-m swim velocity by the SSR value. After the completion of the STT, the athletes immediately had their HR, BLa, and RPE collected.

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Sprint Distance Triathlon

The SDT initially required the athletes to swim 750 m at a self-perceived race intensity. At the start and end of the swim, Tc, BLa, HR, and RPE were measured, along with the measurement of ST for each 250-m split, and SSR and SSL for the last 20 m of every 100-m split. These variables were compared with those taken in the preliminary STT.

The athletes then moved from the pool onto the cycle ergometer, in an average transition time of 176.2 ± 36.7 seconds. At this stage, the athletes were required to complete 500 kJ (∼20 km) of work at a self-selected race intensity. Previous triathlon research has used 500 kJ of work during the cycle discipline as an estimate of 20 km (21,22). The athletes' BLa and RPE were measured before and after the cycling stage, along with mean power output (Cyclemax; School of SSEH, University of Western Australia), Tc and HR taken at 100-kJ intervals.

After completing the cycle discipline, the athletes moved onto the adjacent treadmill and completed a 5-km run at a self-perceived race intensity. The average cycle to run transition time was 131.1 ± 37.8 seconds. During the run section, the athletes were able to adjust their running speed manually with the treadmill's computerized control. However, the treadmill speed and total distance covered were concealed from the athlete, with 1-km milestones verbally indicated by the researcher throughout the duration of the run. Core temperature, HR, BLa, and RPE were taken before and at the completion of the 5-km run.

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Core Temperature

The athletes were required to swallow an ingestible temperature measurement pill (CorTemp, HQ Inc., Palmetto, FL, USA) 6–8 hours before testing. The manufacturer individually calibrated each pill, and the accuracy and precision of this calibration had been critically examined and confirmed previously (16,19).

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Blood Sampling and Analysis

A total of 5 arterialized capillary blood samples were taken throughout each of the 3 trials. Samples (35 μl) were taken from the earlobe of the athlete, after the site had been cleaned with a sterilized alcohol swab. The first blood droplet was discarded to ensure the sample's integrity. All the samples were collected in a 35-μl heparinized glass capillary tube, after which, they were analyzed for plasma lactate concentration (BLa) using a blood-gas analyzer (ABL 625, Radiometer Medical A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark).

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Heart Rate

The HR was measured with a Polar HR Monitor (Polar RS200, Kempele, Finland) continuously over each testing session. The data were stored within the HR monitor and were subsequently downloaded for analysis.

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Ratings of Perceived Exertion

Ratings of perceived exertion were collected using the Borg perceptual scale (7). Each subject was asked to reflect on their overall feeling of exertion. The scale incorporated the anchor points, 6 = No exertion at all, through to 20 = Extreme exertion.

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Statistical Analyses

This investigation employed a counterbalanced, repeated measures, crossover design. The results were expressed as mean ± SD. A repeated measure analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze time and trial differences in SDT performance, and also in the physiological variables measured throughout (HR, RPE, BLa), to assess the influence each of the 3 warm-up conditions. Furthermore, the effect of warm-up specificity on subsequent swimming performance was analyzed through a repeated-measure ANOVA for time and trial differences in the swimming variables measured (SSR, SSL, and ST). Finally, a repeated measures ANOVA was used to analyze the time and trial differences in Tc, to identify any possible cooling effect of a swimming-based warm-up. Post hoc (Fisher's least significant difference), paired samples t-tests were used in the event of a main effect to determine specific group differences. The alpha level was set at p < 0.05.

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Results

Overall Triathlon Time

The mean overall triathlon times for the NWU, SWU, and RSWU were 1 hour 21 minutes 26 seconds ± 13 minutes 14 seconds, 1 hour 22 minutes 55 seconds ± 12 minutes 39 seconds, and 1 hour 22 minutes 56 seconds ± 12 minutes 20 seconds, respectively. No differences existed between these performance times (p = 0.969).

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Swim Time

The time taken to complete the 750-m swim for the STT, NWU, SWU, and RSWU was 11 minutes 4 seconds ± 52 seconds, 11 minutes 8 seconds ± 42 seconds, 11 minutes 12 seconds ± 51 seconds, and 11 minutes 9 seconds ± 46 seconds, respectively, with there being no differences between trials (p = 0.969). When compared for 250-m split times (Figure 1), no differences were evident between trials (p = 0.325). When analyzed for changes over time, it was evident that the time taken to complete the first 250 m in all the trials was significantly faster than the subsequent two 250-m split times (p < 0.05).

Figure 1

Figure 1

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Swim Stroke Mechanics

There were no significant differences in the SSR recorded between the 3 triathlon trials (p = 0.975) or when compared with the STT (p = 0.994). A time effect (p = 0.008) showed that the SSR in the last 20 m of the swim in each condition was significantly higher than that at any other lap split (p ≤ 0.05). Additionally, there were no significant differences in the SSL recorded between the 3 triathlon trials (p = 0.999) or when compared with the STT (p = 0.999). A time effect (p = 0.001), however, showed that the SSL in the last 20 m of the swim in each condition was significantly lower than that at any other lap split (p ≤ 0.05).

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Cycle Time and Power Output

The mean cycle times for NWU, SWU, and RSWU were 42 minutes 5 seconds ± 10 minutes 33 seconds, 43 minutes 14 seconds ± 11 minutes 10 seconds, and 42 minutes 59 seconds ± 9 minutes 42 seconds, respectively, with there being no differences between trials (p = 0.977). The mean power outputs recorded for each 100 kJ of work during the cycle section are shown in Figure 2. There were no significant differences in mean power output at any 100-kJ interval between the 3 trials (p = 0.318).

Figure 2

Figure 2

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Run Time

The mean overall run times for NWU, SWU, and RSWU were 23 minutes 3 seconds ± 2 minutes 38 seconds, 23 minutes 33 seconds ± 1 minutes 40 seconds, and 23 minutes 34 seconds ± 2 minutes 12 seconds, respectively, with no differences between trials (p = 0.855).

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Core Temperature

The relative change in Tc from baseline (ΔTc) is represented in Table 1. The baseline Tc for the NWU, SWU, and RSWU trials were 37.13 ± 0.14, 37.11 ± 0.21, and 37.26 ± 0.38° C, respectively. There were no significant trial effects (p = 0.694), but there was a significant time × trial interaction (p = 0.001) for the ΔTc between the 3 conditions. A post hoc analysis revealed that the ΔTc experienced from the warm-up in the RSWU was significantly greater than that of the NWU (p = 0.001). A significant time effect (p = 0.001) showed that the ΔTc from the baseline was significantly greater at every time point subsequent to the post–warm-up period in all 3 trials (p ≤ 0.05).

Table 1

Table 1

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Blood Lactate

The BLa measurements taken throughout each trial are shown in Table 1. There were no significant trial effects (p = 0.868) for the BLa recordings between the 3 conditions. However, a significant time × trial interaction was evident (p = 0.027). A post hoc analysis revealed that BLa was significantly higher at the completion of the warm-up period in the SWU (p = 0.029) and RSWU (p = 0.013) when compared with the NWU. A significant time effect (p = 0.001) showed an elevated BLa over the warm-up period in both the SWU and RSWU trials (p = 0.037 and p = 0.017, respectively). After the warm-up, BLa was significantly higher at each remaining time point in all 3 trials (p ≤0.05).

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Heart Rate

The HR measures recorded throughout each SDT are displayed in Table 1. Significant trial (p = 0.001) and time × trial (p = 0.001) effects were seen for the HR between the NWU, SWU, and RSWU trials. A post hoc analysis revealed that the HR at the completion of the warm-up periods in the SWU (p = 0.001) and RSWU (p = 0.001) were significantly higher than the NWU. A significant time effect showed that HR had significantly increased over the warm-up period in the SWU and RSWU (p = 0.001 and p = 0.001, respectively). After the warm-up, the HR was significantly greater at each remaining time point in all the 3 trials (p ≤ 0.05).

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Ratings of Perceived Exertion

The RPE for each trial are shown in Table 1. A significant trial effect was seen for RPE between the NWU, SWU, and RSWU (p = 0.001). A post hoc analysis revealed that at the completion of the warm-up period, the RPE was significantly higher in the SWU (p = 0.001) and RSWU (p = 0.001) when compared with the NWU. A significant time effect showed that the RPE significantly increased after the warm-up period in the SWU (p = 0.001) and RSWU (p = 0.002). After the warm-up, the RPE was significantly higher at each remaining time point in all the 3 trials (p ≤ 0.05).

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Discussion

Recent research has highlighted the importance of a high swimming velocity in the early stages of a triathlon for enhanced overall race outcomes (27,28). This investigation attempted to establish a relationship between a task-specific warm-up and subsequent swimming performance during a simulated SDT. It was proposed that the application of an active warm-up, which included high-intensity bursts of task-specific activity, would increase early swimming performance and ultimately improve the speed at which the triathlon was completed.

In contrast to such a hypothesis, the results of this investigation showed that warming up before an SDT did not improve the swim or overall race performance. Here, there were no significant differences in ST (overall or 250-m splits) nor were there differences in swim stroke mechanics or physiological variables between the 3 conditions. Possible explanations for this lack of change between the 3 trials might include the length of recovery time between the warm-up and the SDT being too long or the intensity of the warm-up being too low. In support of this, Bishop (4) identified that finding the correct balance of warm-up intensity and recovery time is essential to allow the ensuing activity to begin with an adequate elevation of baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2. After a moderate intensity warm-up (∼70% V[Combining Dot Above]O2max), baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2 is thought to remain elevated for approximately 5 minutes (4,20); however, after a higher intensity warm-up, baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2 can remain elevated for up to 6 minutes (13). With this in mind, the endurance nature of a triathlon competition must also be considered, and it is unclear as to what impact an increased intensity or decreased recovery time might have on accumulated fatigue and overall race performance.

It has also been suggested that performing static stretching before exercise may impede athletic performance (1,15). However, it is unlikely that the short period of static stretching performed in this study (2 minutes) would have had any significant impact on the performances seen between trials for the SDT, because the total duration of preperformance static stretching for which negative performance effects have previously been shown range from 90 seconds (15) up to 20–30 minutes per muscle group (1). Furthermore, it has been reported that the detrimental side effects of static stretching can be restored when followed by a second bout of dynamic exercise (24,26). Therefore, in the context of this study, it is unlikely that the short period of stretching, followed by a 5-minute period of high-intensity dynamic activity would significantly alter any potential benefits to be gained from the warm-up interventions.

Additional to the intensity and recovery duration of the warm-up, it also appeared that the mode of exercise completed had no influence on the swim or overall race performances recorded between these trials, despite the BLa and HR being significantly elevated after the warm-ups with an active component (SWU and RSWU). These post–warm-up BLa and HR measurements were similar to those previously reported at the conclusion of warm-ups, which were associated with improved subsequent athletic performance (5,14) but were below those previously suggested to elicit fatigue (5). In general, it is considered that increased BLa and HR after an active warm-up may indicate an elevation of the baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2 (3), which is also associated with enhanced endurance performances (4). It is thought that an elevated baseline V[Combining Dot Above]O2 before competition may result in a glycogen sparing effect as a result of a decreased oxygen deficit at the beginning of the race, which may enhance athletic performance during the latter stages of an endurance event (4). However, because the subsequent cycle, run, and overall triathlon times were similar between the 3 conditions in this investigation, it would appear that this commonly accepted mechanism had no effect here. However, future research may look to investigate this area further through the measurement of muscle glycogen concentration at various stages during a triathlon event.

To date, numerous studies have shown the benefits of a task-specific warm-up on exercise performance (11,23,25). It is proposed that such performance enhancements are likely because of an increase in Tc (3,4) and as localized warming and activation of the muscles required to complete the ensuing activity (4). During this investigation, it was noted that the Tc was significantly increased only after the warm-up in the RSWU trial, despite the intensity of activity being similar to that of the SWU trial (based on the BLa and HR data collected). It has previously been suggested that the convective heat transfer coefficient of water is 200 times greater than that of still air (18). As such, it is likely that although the intensity and duration of the 2 active warm-ups were similar, the convective properties of exercising in water alone may have attenuated the pre-SDT increase in Tc.

Despite the attenuated increase in post–warm-up Tc, it is unlikely that the environmental conditions experienced during this study (21.4 ± 1.5° C) were sufficient to subject the athlete to a level of thermal strain that would begin to negatively affect their performance. In support of this, it was noted that the maximum Tc reached during each trial did not match those levels previously reported to coincide with heat-induced fatigue (12). However, the potential benefits of a water-based warm-up on limiting increases in Tc may be of benefit for triathlon races that are conducted in warmer environmental conditions. Previously, it has been shown that by commencing exercise in the heat at a lower Tc, a greater intensity or duration of effort before a ‘critical’ Tc is reached may result (6,12). Furthermore, a potential glycogen sparing effect is evident when Tc is lowered, because Febbraio et al. (9) showed that net muscle glycogen use was reduced when increases in Tc were attenuated during exercise. As such, it is likely that a swimming-based warm-up may be beneficial to triathlon performance in the heat and should be further considered in future research.

Although novel findings to triathlon-based warm-up protocols are presented here, the inherent limitations associated with laboratory-based simulation are evident, such that the distinctive physiological requirements of real-world competition are compromised. This is particularly evident given the unique influence of mass swim starts and drafting on race tactics, motivation, and energetic demands during competition. Furthermore, there is a distinct limitation associated with performing the 750-m swimming leg of an SDT in a 25-m pool, with individual differences in technique and glide length in and out of each turn highlighting another potential source of error. An attempt was made to control for this error by excluding the first 5 m of the 25-m lap from analysis; however, future research should aim to eliminate this error completely by replicating the continuous nature of the swimming leg experienced in a real-world setting. Although this study has clearly shown that there is no effect of the selected warm-up protocols on early swim and overall triathlon performance in an isolated SDT with a time-trial approach taken to the swim, such outcomes need clarification in a field-based scenario to more accurately reproduce the external and physiological characteristics of competitive triathlon racing.

This investigation showed that a task-specific warm-up had limited effects on the subsequent swim and overall race performance during a SDT. The findings demonstrate that there is no significant benefit or harm from performing such warm-up procedures before an SDT; however, an active warm-up may be preferred, because this might allow for greater mental preparation leading into a competitive event, serving as a part of an athlete's structured prerace routine. It is possible that the intensity and duration of the warm-ups used in this investigation were not sufficient enough to produce a performance-enhancing effect; however, these warm-ups were based on information gathered regarding the most common practiced methods currently used by triathletes. Additionally, it is unclear as to what effect a greater intensity warm-up, with a reduced prerace recovery time may have on accumulated fatigue during such an endurance event. Future research should investigate the manipulation of warm-up factors such as exercise type, duration, intensity, and recovery time to determine the most optimal warm-up strategy for not only an SDT but also for other race distances (Olympic and Ironman), because a different stimulus may be required from the warm-up procedure when the nature of the event changes.

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Practical Applications

The results of this study suggest that the current warm-up practices of an amateur triathlete do not negatively impact on performance and that there is no significant advantage or disadvantage to be gained from an active, discipline specific warm-up. Therefore, it is recommended to the coach or sport science practitioner working with amateur triathletes that an individual preference for warm-up type (active vs. passive) and mode (swim vs. run) should be implemented in the prerace warm-up routine, provided that it does not cause significant levels of fatigue or undue thermal strain. With this in mind, athletes should aim to include a swim component in the warm-up when competing in hot environmental conditions, because the cooling effect of the water may help to attenuate the increase in prerace Tc experienced.

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Acknowledgments

This research involves no professional relationships with companies or manufacturers who will benefit from the results presented here. Furthermore, the results of this study do not constitute endorsement by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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Keywords:

swimming; multisport; specificity; stretching

© 2012 National Strength and Conditioning Association