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Technique and Training

Six Tips for a Great Meet Warm-up in a Crowded Pool

There are lots of ways to get what you need when space is limited

Scott Bay | July 24, 2017

Many of us don’t have to contend for lane space at our home pools, where we’re with a few like-minded souls that we typically know very well. Our warm-ups are casual with maybe a little chatting at the end of the pool. Then you go to a swim meet, maybe a big one like nationals, and the warm-up pool looks like sharks gathered for a feeding frenzy.

This might be way out of your comfort zone, but you still need a good warm-up and what you normally do is clearly out the window. Here are a few tips for how you can work around difficult situations for a great meet warm-up.

  1. Know the Pace of Others: If you need to get up to speed, communicate with your lanemates that you’re allowing a little separation between you and the swimmer in front of you because you’re going to go faster than that swimmer. This allows you to get your heart rate up while doing swimming-specific movements.
  2. Make the Most of Your Space: If you’re in a lane that’s too crowded, you might need to find other ways to get your heart rate up during warm-up. One idea could be to find a spot in the corner of a lane out of the way of other swimmers and do some vertical kicking. You can also tread with just your arms to get those muscles engaged and activated. This gets your heart rate up without adding to the traffic in the lane.
  3. Warm Up on Deck: If the pool is too crowded, you might have to resort to extreme measures. Try doing some arm swings, shoulder shrugs or rotations, and light jogging or other aerobic exercises. Make sure to do some “air swimming” where you mimic the motions of the strokes on land as you would do them in the water. This isn’t an ideal plan, but it will have to do if you don’t have other options. (For more ideas see Meet Warm-ups: The Dry Side, by Chris Ritter.)
  4. Change Your Warm-up Time: The warm-up pool is usually packed just before sprint events, so you need to find a time it’s less crowded. The warm-up before a distance event is a lot less populated, making it worth the early wake-up call even if it’s long before your event. It prepares the body and provides the mental benefit of familiarity with the competition pool.
  5. Practice Your Starts: You’ll have a chance to go off the blocks during the scheduled warm-up at most meets. Although they’re standard in measures blocks are all different, meaning it’s a good idea to get a few practice starts before your race. This is especially true if you don’t get to work on them much at home.
  6. Work with Your Fellow Swimmers: Most meets don’t allow training equipment during warm-ups, so just leave that at home. If you’re stopping at a wall, make sure you move off to the side, so other swimmers can turn at the center. If someone is already in the corner, slide down the lane out of the way. And if there is a 65-and-over lane for warm-ups and you’re not quite there yet, find somewhere else to warm up. And be friendly! Some swimmers are unfamiliar with crowded warm-up lane etiquette—whether that describes you or the people you’ve found yourself in a lane with, a smile goes a long way.

And Don’t Forget

Any warm-up should prepare your body to perform, which means you need to raise your heart rate, gently stretch your muscles out, and do movement-specific activities, and prepare your mind for your races.

One of the best pieces of advice is that there should be nothing new on race day, no new food or drinks, no new goggles, and nothing you might not be used to. Practice your go-to meet warm-up before you get to the meet, even if you’ve got a spacious lane at home.

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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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