“Building the Perfect Prerace Warm-up”

We just had our first meet of the year in Connecticut and questions came up: “What is the point of warm up?”, “How long should my warm up be?” and “What should I do in warm up?”.  Scott Bay sums it up nicely in this article written to USMS coaches.  While this article was written for coaches, there are many swimmers in Connecticut that swim coachless and this may help you think about how you are going to put together your warm-up for meets.  I have added my thoughts or clarifications in parenthesis.

Building the Perfect Prerace Warm-Up: Things to think about in your quest for the Goldilocks warm-up, Scott Bay, December 19/2013
Coaches are often asked what athletes should do for warm-up before they race at a meet.  The best warm-up should challenge and prepare your swimmers not too much, not too little, but just right.  And ultimately, the best warm-up is the one that works.  Sure, that’s a vague answer, but if we were all the same, someone would have come up with “the perfect warm-up” already.  Instead, here are some things to consider when building a prerace warm-up routine for your swimmers.
1. The athlete. There are lots of variable here, such as fitness level, age, health, and any preexisting conditions that affect performance. (I would also add health- in general and day of the meet, and also ability to recover, and how the swimmer swims best: relaxed, pumped, etc.)
2. The event. Naturally, there should be different warm-ups for different events. (Generally, shorter races need longer warms-ups as the swimmer needs to be ready from the start. Longer races can use shorter warm-ups as the swimmer can use the beginning of the race to build into a peak speed and won’t want to have done so much as to be tired before the end of the race.)
3. Fatigue. Is this the first race or the last race? What other factors can influence the energy level of the athlete? (Was the last event 2 hours ago or 15 minutes ago?)
4. Nutrition. When was the last time the athlete ate? What was it? Is the swimmer well hydrated?
5. Physical environment. Think about the air and water temperatures at the racing venue. Water space is also a consideration. If it’s cold or overly crowded, maybe a dryland warm-up is a better idea. (It is is a new pool it is a good idea to practice turns, especially if doing backstroke. Starts are also good to add in your warm up if you haven’t used the starting blocks before.)
6. Psychology. Is your athlete “in the moment” and focused on the race? This can be tricky to man
The following suggestions can also help guide you in building a good warm-up:
1. Have the swimmer complete a long, slow swim thinking about perfect stroke.
2. Incorporate kicking into the warm-up. It is amazing what it does for swim speed when done right.
3. Add in some pace work.
4. Complete some faster-than-race pace short effort swims. (Example could be to do a perfect push off and sprint a few pulls or swim a 25 build finishing in a sprint.)
5. Take the necessary time to focus on every aspect of the race that produces peak performance.
How much you put into each of the items above will vary from athlete to athlete. You might need to change it up a bit from time to time until you get it just right. (As with all aspects of swimming there is no right answer for every swimmer and finding the right answer for you will take time, practice, and patience.)