The meet warm-up: Preparing to swim fast

Tomorrow morning I will fly from Columbus to Atlanta, and from the airport will head directly to the pool and warm up for my first event, the mile.

The pre-meet warm-up is vitally important to how well you swim on a given day. Aside from getting a good breakfast, there’s probably nothing as important. Some people approach their meet warm-up mindlessly, without a plan – and that is foolish. I’ve even known people to skip warm-up entirely – and that’s just crazy.

The purpose of a meet warm-up is to prepare your body for optimal performance. That means bringing your heart-rate up, but not too far and not for too long. By the end of the warm-up you should feel loose but not tired.

How far should you swim? However long it takes to feel warm and loose (and if you’re a sprinter: explosive). First thing in the morning, this might take longer than in the afternoon. A good rule of thumb is: however far you swim near the end of your taper. For me, that means about 2000 yards, plus-or-minus 300.

Dave Salo apparently had his swimmers do literally the same meet warm-up every time (with slight modifications for each swimmer’s events that day), with the idea that over time your body will come to recognize that “Hey, this means I’m supposed to swim fast today.” I think this is solid advice.

Here’s my typical meet warm-up:

  • 400 – alternate 100 free / 100 back
  • 400 –
    • 2x {50 kick, 50 drill, 50 swim} – include strokes
    • 2×25 SDK (streamline dolphin kick)
    • 50 easy swim
  • 400 – straight free, build to 75%
  • 4×100 descend to 80% – possibly include strokes or IM
  • 4×50 IM order @ 85%
  • 8×25 – sprint to halfway, then easy – include strokes

That’s 2000 yards/meters. At this point, I’ll assess how I feel. If I’m still not ready I might add some additional 100s or 50s at a strong pace. If I’m doing any sprint events that day, I’ll do some starts. Then, I’ll warm down with at least a 300.

With a proper meet warm-up, you should be ready to swim fast at any time over the next 2 hours or so, with only some moderate swimming just before your race. If the wait before your first race is more than a couple of hours, you might add some pace 50s or sprint 25’s to the pre-race warm-up.

Health comes first

This past week was a perfect storm of events to temporarily derail my training, and I should have seen it coming. But there are some things you can control, and some you can’t.

It’s tough to train while traveling. Not impossible – I got in 7,900 LCM within 12 hours of arriving in Chicago – but usually tough. Add a few late nights, some occasionally excessive drinking and fraternizing, frequent use of public transportation, and, well, you’re asking for it.

And I sure got it. This wasn’t one of those bugs that teases you for a few days with a sore throat. This one hit me like a truck. Down and out.

At which point there’s nothing to do but rest and wait it out. For me, it has meant 6 days out of the water right before my taper was to begin. Could I have gone to the pool today? Perhaps. 15 years ago, I almost certainly would have. And the bug would have gradually dug its way into my sinuses and festered for the rest of the summer.

I’m not as fast a swimmer as I was when I was 15, but I’m a smarter one. Frustrating as it seems in the short-term, health comes first. Sickness is your body saying, “Slow down.” Respect it.