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by Bo Hickey

March 12, 2018

Stop swimming to warm up. Warm up to swim!

Before you start your next practice, look around and make note of what you see. You’ll see people conversing about life or the workout. Maybe you’ll see someone doing static stretching. A few people will be swinging their arms around in random patterns.

Take it a step further and watch swimmers while they are behind the blocks before their race. What do you see? You’ll notice swimmers standing, hands tucked under the armpits and practicing their best statue pose.

Does any of this truly prepare you for your first stroke? Absolutely not. Stop wasting your warm-up.

Warm-Up Objectives

In its simplest form, a warm-up is an activity that warms the musculature and gets the heart rate up. The activities described above do not accomplish the two foundational pieces of a warm-up. Why are warm musculature and an elevated heart rate important components of a swim warm-up?

Warm Musculature

What happens when you put a rubber band in a freezer for 30 minutes and then try to stretch it? It snaps. Your muscles act similarly to the rubber band. Musculature with a lack of blood flow does not provide the elasticity and range of motion to maximize your potential in the water.

Do you want to know what makes it worse? Hopping into a cold pool and trying to compete at a high level.

Increasing the rate of blood flow and warming your body increases your preparedness for the practice or race at hand. It also reduces your chances of injuries or aches and pains from improper movement. Swimming is such a repetitive sport. Completing your first strokes without warming up can derail your training quickly. A good rule of thumb is to have a light sweat going before you enter the water.

Elevated Heart Rate

This is also a critical component of a swimming warm-up. Think about the first 10 minutes of a recent practice. Did you hit your rhythm right away or did it take a few minutes to settle into a smooth rhythm with your breath and stroke? It probably took a few minutes.

Now imagine yourself standing on the blocks before your race. Your heart rate isn’t elevated and your musculature is cold. You’re going for a new personal best. Are you in the best state to accomplish this? No way!

The moment the race starts, you’re throwing yourself into a state of alarm. You aren’t maximizing your opportunity to perform with this method.

Elevating your heart rate before a practice or race gets you closer to the exertion level required for the upcoming work. This minimizes the initial shock you experience. You can also view this as minimizing the amount of catching up you have to do to hit the intensity required.

Also, injuries in swimming can happen early and then progress quickly because of the high level of repetition. An elevated heart rate will also help with warming the musculature.

Your New Warm-Up

Are you ready to make a change? Good! Let’s look at a routine that will help prepare your body for swimming. This may seem like a challenge at first. Give it a few weeks and it will become a seamless part of your preswim routine. Invite some teammates to do it with you.

Swim Warm-Up

Complete three rounds of the following exercises. This should take about 15 minutes.

Wall Angels—one round of 10 reps

Scap Push-Up Matrix—two in each hand position

Centipede—one round of five reps

Lateral Lunge + Diagonal Reach—one round of five reps each side

Hinge Matrix—two in each foot position

Why do I like this sequence? It targets areas that swimmers need to warm up and it helps manage issues that affect Masters swimmers who might be going to practice after a long day at work sitting at a desk or might come to practice after holding a child in one arm all day or have quite the injury history. These movements will help.

Revamp your warm-up—your body and your performance will thank you.


  • Technique and Training


  • Warm Ups
  • Drylands