“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.)

What did they mean?

Every coach has his/her own terms and abbreviations which can make it hard to understand a written practice.  If the coach is available, ask him/her any questions you might have.  As a coach, I might use different terms or abbreviations, I might use a drill you don’t know, or sometimes my handwriting is just horrible.  I, and most Master’s coaches, am never insulted for clarification as I know master’s swimmers have very different backgrounds when they come to my program.  I appreciate the curiosity and interested in my work.  If the coach is not available, consider emailing them or any coach or long time swimmer for their ideas on what was meant. 

One question I often get is on a common set such as 10×50 Fr on 1:00.  What this means for my practices is that the swimmer should do 50 yards Freestyle, 10 times, starting 1 minute apart.  Often this means starting on the 60 or “the top” and every 60 starting the next 50.  This is a good set because if you start on the same time, you easily compare if you go faster or slower than the one before.  Not every swimmer can  repeat 50’s on a minute, so 2 minutes could also be used for the same experience.  If you are getting good at reading the pace clock (it is a skill just like flip turns and butterfly kick that do improve with practice), then you can try other intervals like 1:30 or :50.  To repeat 50’s on :50, try the first one on the 60, the second on the 50, the third on the 40, the fourth on the 30 and so on. 

Some people have expressed that they thought on 1:00 meant taking one minute rest after you finish the 50, which also an option.  In my practices, I will note this by saying 10×50 Fr with 1:00 rest.  The advantage of practicing on an interval- leaving every 1:00 or 2:00 is that you are incouraged to swim fast so that you can have more rest.  The advantage of having swimmers rest a specific amount of time between swims is that many different abilities can swim a set and not feel pressure to keep up with or slow down for the group. 

Most important is that you do sets that you are comfortable with and can feel successful at even if you make up your own rules for them.  This will encouraged you to keep swimming.

December- Eating a Snack

I am sure many of you have been seeing articles on the importance of eating a post workout snack.  I do believe there is value to a post workout snack but if you would really like more details on what and when, consult a nutritionist, preferably a sports nutritionist.  I will give a tip on a question a swimmer asked after trying to start eating a snack after a her workouts.  She told me she would go home and open a bag of chips and then she would have a hard time putting the bag down, and the only chips she could not eat were the ones she gave to the begging dog at her feet until the bag was empty.  This sounded familiar as I was transported back to post high school swims when I would eat a bag of smart food; yes, the whole family size bag.  I think this is a common problem and in order to eat a snack without ruining the calorie burning success of the practice, plan on what you are going to eat before leaving for practice.  Consider packing an appropriate size snack, something that can fit in your hand, in the car.  Granola bars, fruit, and sandwich size bags of food travel well.  If you have the food preportioned and waiting in the car you can snack on the way home.  By eating on the way, you will fill up and be less likely to rumage the cabinets.