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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 variables here, such as fitness level, age, health, and any preexisting conditions that affect performance.
  2. The event. Naturally, there should be different warm-ups for different events.
  3. Fatigue. Is this the first race or the last race? What other factors can influence the energy level of the athlete?
  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.
  6. Psychology. Is your athlete “in the moment” and focused on the race? This can be tricky to manage.

The following suggestions can also help guide you in building a good warm-up:

  • Have the swimmer complete a long, slow swim thinking about perfect stroke.
  • Incorporate kicking into the warm-up. It is amazing what it does for swim speed when done right.
  • Add in some pace work.
  • Complete some faster-than-race-pace short effort swims.
  • 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.


USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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