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by Scott Bay

November 11, 2019

Pro tips for making the most of your warm-up in a crowded pool

Regardless of sport, middle-distance and long-distance athletes often look a little sideways at sprinters. Could be that each group defines work differently, or maybe it’s simply that they haven’t walked in each other’s shoes. For swimmers who swim the 1500 or the 1650, seeing a teammate doing 50 repeats on 6 minutes seems, quite frankly, a little lazy. At the same time, most sprinters have a tough time understanding why anyone would want to swim more than a 200 in the first place, unless it was the warm-up.

We’re all still part of one big happy swimming family, but acknowledging our differences makes it easier to get along in the warm-up pool. A good sprint warm-up comes down to three things: picking your spot, calling your shot, and having perfect timing. 

The Warm-Up Pool: Pick Your Spot

Let’s face it, at big meets the warm-up pool can look a lot like a river full of spawning salmon, and often swimmers are just getting their bodies moving rather than doing a purposeful warm-up. If there are a bunch of people just paddling down the lane, they all have a reason for being there, too, so here are some helpful tips for picking the right spot.

  • Scope out the lane that has some other fast swimmers—not just the one with the fewest swimmers. As the sprint events approach, you’ll often find that people gravitate this way. Find your people. You’ll know who they are as they’re often doing short bursts and hanging on the wall after each 25.
  • One-way sprint lanes are usually available at big meets, but only during the morning warm-up. Take advantage of this, as it’s not something that happens all day.
  • If you’re not 65 or older, stay out of the 65+ lane. Even if there are only a few people in it, it’s very bad manners.

The Warm-Up: Call Your Shot

This just means that you want to get to know your lane mates and find out what they’re doing, so you can work your warm-up into everyone else’s. The vast majority of Masters swimmers are friendly and accommodating. If you run across the rare one that isn’t, just smile and remind yourself why you’re there: to get the body going and wake up those fast-twitch muscles. Here’s a great warm-up that works, even in a crowded pool.

  • Warm up with some easy swimming. You may even want to start off your warm-up in a different lane. Again, communicating with your lane mates about what you want to do is one key to a happy warm-up and a great way to meet new people.
  • Corner kicking is a good next step. Just find a corner of the lane in a deep pool and doing some vertical kicking. You stay out of everyone’s way and you can really get the legs going like you would in a race. Yes, you can always kick down the lane, but pick a lane where you won’t impede or run over anyone.
  • Spin drill is a great way to get the arms going when you don’t have much pool space. Basically, it’s head out of the water, spin the arms, and kick as fast as you can go. Use a super quick turnover and don’t worry about holding the water. Just get your fast-twitch muscles firing like they will in a race. You only need a little separation for this between you and the next swimmer. And you won’t run over anyone. Doing this for half the pool a few times, with easy swimming the rest of the way, should do the trick.
  • Just a few one-way sprints off the blocks, if available, is next. The key is to get your stroke going right away—as with the spin drill, you don’t even need to go the full length of the pool.

When to Warm Up: Timing Is Important

Everyone is different. How long you want between warm-up and competition is what works best for you. The key is to get loose and warm, and it may be done in stages or just a single effort. Logistics will often dictate your choice. Here are two approaches that have worked well for different sprinters. Experiment with which is best for you.

Stepped Warm-Up

This approach is great if your first event of the day is a sprint. Study the event order. If there’s a distance event first, go to the warm-up for that. Warm-up lanes are typically less crowded then, and you can do a longer and slower type of initial warm-up. The lines for the one-way sprint lanes are often shorter during this time. Afterward, hop out and get warm right away. If there’s a second warm-up period after the distance event, take advantage of that to do some speed work or drills as mentioned above. Once again, hop out and get warm. The last step is right before your event—just some quick efforts to remind the body what it’s supposed to do. Hop out and get warm once again and get ready to race.

Hot Warm-Up

In this approach, you go through the whole progression above, but all at once, just before racing. It’s best to have a friend or your coach help you keep track of the current event and heat, so you can time it to hop out of the warm-up pool with just a few minutes before your race—just enough time to get rested but not enough to get cold. This takes a high level of awareness; some swimmers have been known to watch their heat rather than swim it because they timed it incorrectly, so be careful with this approach.

What to Do Between Warm-Up and Race

The best competitors don’t rely on luck for a great swim. All the training and preparation, including the warm-up, is scripted. Between the warm-up pool and the block, those swimmers go over the script mentally. From start to streamline to breakout to the first stroke—everything is rehearsed over and over mentally. After you warm up, rehearse your winning race on your way to the blocks, and then race and have fun!


  • Technique and Training


  • Warm Ups
  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • Freestyle