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by Terry Heggy

September 10, 2018

Be safe, be courteous, and be prepared to get a good warm-up in before a meet

Swim meet warm-ups can be challenging. You might be unfamiliar with the venue, nervous about your events, or distracted by check-in tasks. And then there are the crowds.

But to perform your best, you know you must warm up. How can you prepare for your races without freaking out, disrupting others, or running afoul of meet management?

Here are some suggestions for productive warm-ups in a problem-free and respectful way.

Safety First

Keeping everyone safe always takes the highest priority. When you arrive at the pool, read and follow all safety placard rules and always comply with instructions from meet officials and lifeguards. Here are a few more tips to follow:

  • Except for practicing starts in designated lanes, always enter the water feet first. Before you enter, scan the water to ensure it’s clear of swimmers and underwater obstacles.
  • Lanes designated for starts and sprints are usually one-way, so when in those lanes, swim to the other end and immediately exit. Practice turns only in circle-swim lanes.
  • Stay out of closed zones, such as buffer lanes and areas under bulkheads, and don’t swim across the lanes that are used for starts and sprints.
  • Pool decks can be slippery, so take your time when walking to and from your warm-up. Consider deck shoes or sandals for extra traction.

Be Courteous

Every swimmer (regardless of ability) has the right to warm up, so you’ll have to deal with other people in your lane, and they may not always go the speed you’d like them to. If that happens, you can move to the sprint lane, find a lane with swimmers closer to your own speed, or smile and enjoy the fact that Masters Swimming welcomes us all.

Keep in mind that crowds are generally smaller if you arrive early or if you use continuous warm-up lanes provided during the meet.

The basic rules of lap swimming etiquette apply, but these are especially important:

  • Swim counterclockwise circles and stay aware of the location of the lane’s other swimmers. If possible, swim with compatible folks from your own team so you know their tendencies.
  • If a faster swimmer comes up behind you, let him or her pass by pulling over to the right side of the lane and stopping at the end. If a faster swimmer is approaching as you’re preparing to push off, wait until that person passes before you go.
  • Stay to your own side of the lane to allow for traffic in the opposite direction. Be especially conscious of others when swimming backstroke. Again, remember that you may not be able to do everything you’d like exactly when you’d like to do it, but courtesy takes precedence.
  • To make room for other swimmers, exit the pool as soon as you stop, even if you plan to swim more after resting. Converse with your friends on deck, not while clogging the end of the lane.

Plan Ahead

You may want to arrive at the beginning of warm-up, even if you’re not swimming until much later. This may be your only opportunity to swim in the competition pool, so you can do the following:

  • Learn the walls—Different surfaces (especially bulkheads and touchpads), changes in lighting and color, and even the appearance of backstroke flags may skew your perception on when to initiate turns. Practice each turn you’ll do in competition (flips, individual medley transitions, etc.) at both ends of the pool until you’re confident you’ve got the distance and touches dialed in.
  • Learn the lanes—Are there backstroke wedges? Wedges on the back of the blocks? Can anything be adjusted, and if so, what settings will you use? How do you mount these blocks, and how will you exit the lane when you finish your event? Remember that you can’t cross other lanes until all competitors in those lanes have finished their races.

You should also consider how much warm-up you require, how much time you need before your heat to execute your final visits to the bathroom or water fountain, and how long it takes to navigate the crowds to get to the blocks. Where will you stow your shoes, glasses, and heat sheet while you swim? You might also consider whether some dryland warm-up (exercising with resistance bands, using a foam roller, etc.) will help, and where you have room to do it. Don’t swing your arms around to loosen up unless you’re certain no one else is in range.

Everyone needs to properly warm up and prepare to race, and everyone should strive to do it in a way that respects their fellow swimmers. A little forethought and consideration can make it go smoothly for all swimmers.


  • Technique and Training


  • Warm Ups