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Is less really more in warm-ups?

May 31st, 2011

A few people have e-mailed me about this University of Calgary study, (“Less is More: Standard Warm-up Causes Fatigue and Less Warm-up Permits Greater Cycling Power Output”) which has received a bunch of press. It seems to run counter to the message from this blog post a few weeks ago, which argued that a hard effort during your warm-up could enhance performance.

The new study had cyclists perform either a “standard” long warm-up (designed in consultation with elite track cyclists and coaches), or an experimental short warm-up. Then they tested performance, and the short warm-up group had a 6.2% advantage in peak power. Okay, cool. This is valuable information. But let me add two caveats:

  1. What was the “standard” warm-up? It was “about 50 minutes with a graduated intensity that ranged from 60 to 95 per cent of maximal heart rate before ending with several all-out sprints.” That’s one heck of a warm-up. In comparison, the experimental warm-up was “about 15 minutes, and was performed at a lower intensity, ending with just a single sprint.”
  2. What was the performance test? It was a 30-second Wingate test.

Now, bear in mind what athletes are hoping to achieve with a warm-up. According to the paper, it’s:

[I]ncreased muscle temperature, accelerated oxygen uptake kinetics, increased anaerobic metabolism and postactivation potentiation (PAP) of the muscles.

In the blog post a few weeks ago about the “priming” effect of a hard warm-up effort, the focus was on accelerated oxygen uptake kinetics. But in a 30-second sprint, oxygen kinetics have nothing to do with it. We’re talking about two different animals here.

Bottom line: if you’re a track sprinter who spends nearly an hour warming up at up to 95% of max heart rate, then this study tells you something very important. But if your event is longer than 30 seconds (so that oxygen kinetics matter), and your warm-up tends to be shorter and less intense, don’t assume that this study is telling you to shorten it even more!

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