Warming up is something we all do, it is a given, but do we know why we do it? Does it work? What type of warm up is best? This paper from Barranco-Gil et al. (2020) set about trying to answer some of these questions.
Within this study the authors highlight the fact that warming up is a widely used strategy to improve performance with potential mechanisms including increases in muscle temperature, metabolic rate, nerve conduction rate and psychological benefits. Of 32 studies reviewed in Franklin et al. (2010) research 79% of studies were found to provide some benefit to warming up on physical performance1 yet within this grouping Barranco-Gil et al. (2020) suggest limitations within the selected studies such as lack of control groups. Warmups commonly included in these studies take the shape of 5-10-minute bouts at 60-70% V02Max. Adding brief explosive actions to a warmup may illicit the post-activation potentiation effect (PAP). PAP is theorised to illicit an increased rate of phosphorylation in the regulatory chain of myosin making actin and myosin more sensitive to calcium increasing excitability within the muscle fibre facilitating a greater force production capacity2. While the research on PAP has mainly been linked to explosive power sports there may be evidence that it could prove beneficial in endurance sport.
The aim of this study was, therefore, to examine effects of different warm up protocols on endurance cycling performance.
How did they do this?
The study employed a randomized crossover design with 15 participants being recruited (mean training hours 13 per week having a minimum of 3 years cycling experience. The participants visited the lab on 4 separate occasions; visit one: a maximal ramp test, visit two, three and four: a randomized warm up protocol before a 20-minute maximal time trial. The warmup(s) included passive (none), 10 minutes at 60% VO2Max (standard) and 10 minutes at 60% VO2Max followed by 3, 10 second all out sprints with 90 seconds rest between each sprint (PAP Warm Up).
The variables measured included autonomic response (through heart rate variability (HRV)), jump test, time trial power output, pacing behaviour, perceptual responses, oxygen uptake, blood lactate and skin temperature.
What was the outcome?
The results of the maximal ramp test were as follows: mean VO2Peak 66.4ml.kg.min-1, mean absolute and relative peak power output were 405W and 5.6 w/kg respectively showing that these athletes were at a pretty decent level!
The standard warm up and PAP warm up improved jump performance over the passive warm up.
HRV decreased after both the standard and PAP warm up versus the passive warm up.
The mean power output for the time trial with each of the three warmups were 301, 299 and 303W for no warmup, standard and PAP respectively. During the first 3 minutes of the TT following a PAP warm up power output was higher/ there was an apparent pacing difference. There was no significant difference in RPE throughout each TT.
In regard to VO2 Response a significant time effect relationship was found whereby PAP elicited higher VO2 in the first couple of minutes in the TT. There were no differences between mean VO2 in each TT / warm up combination.
Likewise, with blood lactate, a significant time effect relationship was found after the PAP warm up. Blood lactate was likely higher after the sprints in the PAP warm up before entering the TT.
Conclusions, how does this apply?
Essentially these results point to a warmup having no effect on performance. Through the variables examined here this would certainly appear to be the case.
So why do we warm up? Crucially something we need to bear in mind with this study is the omittance of data around injury prevention along with psychological readiness variables which may play a crucial role in competitive environments. Regarding injury prevention we are aware that warmups do have some role to play here so when looking at training and long-term adaptation it is a good idea to include warmups into your sessions.
There are no apparent negatives to including warmups before competition or training (provided environmental factors are accounted for). Also, it is worth noting the variable measured here in terms of the 20-minute time trial is starkly different to a standing start sprint session or an all-out 5 minute effort. So, when asked should I include warmups within the broader performance plan as a coach I would always say yes!
Main Paper – Barranco-Gil, D., Alejo, L. B., Valenzuela, P. L., Gil-Cabrera, J., Montalvo-Pérez, A., Talavera, E., … & Lucia, A. (2020). Warming up before a 20-minute endurance effort: is it really worth it?. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1(aop), 1-7.
- Fradkin, A. J., Zazryn, T. R., & Smoliga, J. M. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(1), 140-148.
- Hodgson, M., Docherty, D., & Robbins, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation. Sports medicine, 35(7), 585-595.