Swimming Warm Up is notoriously a swimmer’s least favorite part of practice. There’s a lot of friction surrounding the transition from whatever they were doing before showing up at the pool to becoming set and focused for practice. Swimming Warm Ups need to check a lot of boxes. It can help a swimmer to know what’s coming with a familiar warm up, but it also has to be engaging and different enough that the routine doesn’t get stale. So what’s a coach to do? My recommendation is to stick with the 3 steps of a Killer Swimming Warm Up, then innovate from there.
1. Dynamic Stretching
Step 1 of a Killer Swimming Warm Up is ALWAYS going to be about preparation OUT OF THE WATER! Not only does out of the water warm up prepare the swimmer’s body, but it also acts as a mental transition from pre-practice time to in-water focus. Let your swimmers know that they will have 5-10 minutes of dedicated practice time to your prescribed dynamic stretching. If they need more than that, they should come early to get what they need. I know that personally, I needed a lot of foam rolling and shoulder exercises before practice, so I would always get there as early as possible.
Dynamic stretching means stretching with movement, and it utilizes the muscles’ natural movements in order to feel the stretch. If you think of long yoga practices when you think of stretching, that’s not what we’re talking about here! All examples of dynamic stretching combine movement and stretching. Movements like scapular push-ups, leg swings, and arm circles. I used to lead my college team in several dynamic stretches. We would line up along the pool deck and walk up and down while incorporating lunges with a twist, quad stretches, and high knees. You can really get creative here! We even played four-square with Jack Bauerle from time to time prior to hitting the water too! If you need ideas, sign-up for our mini stroke challenges with Dan Daly.
For example, even though this over the shoulder tricep stretch is typically a static (still) stretch, you can make it dynamic by simply pulling down as you lift up onto your toes. Try it – it feels great and really adds to the stretch while waking up the muscles! Although you don’t have to stick completely to dynamic stretching – it’s not a hard and fast rule. In most situations, it’s best for the purpose of a Swimming Warm Up.
Strengthen to Protect Yourself
Another component of dynamic stretching is actually strength building! As we always talk about, shoulder health is crucial to a swimmer’s success. That’s why swimmers should be given sets of shoulder exercises to do pre-practice. We do that in order to help strengthen and protect themselves for the work that they’ll be doing in the pool. Here’s a couple examples they can incorporate.
I always preach the helpful nature of Crossover Symmetry Bands to these stretches! They’re affordable, pack well, and have nearly unlimited movement options. We use Crossover Symmetry Bands to strengthen those little muscles in a swimmers shoulders that are crucial for preventing injury, but oftentimes get overlooked. Use Code SwimLikeA.Fish for 15% off your purchase!
Step 2 of a Killer Swimming Warm Up is acclimating the swimmers from the air temperature to the water temperature. This step is where coaches tend to run into the most resistance with swimmers. It can be a shock to the body to suddenly plunge into a body of cold water and to start swimming. Make sure your swimmer’s muscles are plenty warm on deck. Then, give them something easy and familiar to get into the water. Think like a 100-300 easy pace depending on the age and volume of training your swimmers are used to.
As a swim coach, this is where we must practice the most patience. Many of us (myself included) have gone blue in the face trying to tell swimmers to get in the water on time! The more we as coaches can do to get our swimmers to be relaxed about getting in the water, the better the transition will go. From an animalistic viewpoint, this acclimation phase might be the most crucial of them all. We all need time to adjust and allow our nervous systems to settle and regulate in order to be able to focus on the next task at hand.
3. Swimming Warm Up To INCREASE Body Temperature
The last phase of a Killer Swimming Warm Up is ALWAYS going to be about getting that body temperature up. Giving swimmers a few sets of small sprints forces the body to physically heat up. Heating up allows the muscles time to loosen and prep for the harder sets that are coming. Keep in mind that our bodies like to keep us comfortable. That means this initial attempt to get up to speed is crucial to set yourself up for success later. Forcing ourselves to get a little uncomfortable primes the muscles and the mind. Some people assign colors to the body temperature and heart rate that are achieved throughout training – like the Jon Urbanchek Color System!
I love an easy-fast-easy combination of sets. It doesn’t take a mini-main set to prime the body properly. All you need is a little sprint thrown into a 25 to get your body ready to WORK!
Again, make sure to keep adding variety to your warm ups to keep them interesting. But no matter what, incorporating these 3 steps into a Killer Swimming Warm Up is the surefire way to go. Make sure to get a swimmer’s mind and body prepped and ready to go for a great practice!
Until next time,
Abbie Fish and the Swim Like A. Fish Team