Crowded warm-ups are a fact of life at nearly every major competition, from USS to USMS to high school, NCAA, and YMCA. The confusion, crowding, and fast pace can throw you off if you aren’t ready for it. Here are some tips for staying cool and getting the warm-up you need.
You’ve worked hard all season to prepare for the Big Meet. You arrive at the pool rested and ready to go. But when you get on deck for warm-up, every lane is a frothy sea of bumper-to-bumper swimmers, all of whom look bigger and faster than you. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing — except you. And everyone seems to have on a cooler bathing suit than you. How do you keep your cool and get the warm-up you need when there are 22 other people in your lane? Here are a few suggestions.
Find out in advance what the pool is like. If you’ve been to this pool before, think back to what it’s like and get a picture in your head of the blocks, walls, and other features. If you’ve never been to the pool, go online and google the venue. Most schools and universities and major pools have websites, with photos of their facilities. Ask friends/coaches what they know about the facility.
Find out the rules for warm-up. Read the meet rules well in advance of race day. Know what time warm-up starts and finishes, and find out if you have been assigned a specific time slot during warm-up (very common at championship meets with lots of teams). Be aware that you won’t be allowed to wear or use any equipment for warm-up, and that you have to get into the pool feet first. Also find out if there is a separate pool or lane(s) for continuous warm-up/warm-down. If there is a separate pool, consider starting your warm-up in this pool (less crowded) and then finishing your warm-up in the main competition pool to get a feel for the walls and markings, and to practice a few starts from the competition blocks.
Arrive on deck with a plan, and then execute the plan as best you can. The best way to stay calm is to know what you will do BEFORE you get in the water. A good place to start is with your normal warm-up for practice. If you normally do 300 yards of freestyle or backstroke to warm up, then start with that at the meet. If you do drills, try to do those, too (although this may be difficult if your drills involve just kicking or pulling — you may have to modify). If you do a few 50s, then try to do those, too, but be aware: Warm-up etiquette is to KEEP MOVING. So if you stop at each 50, make sure you stay out of the way of other swimmers.
Use warm-ups to learn the pool. Don’t just dive in and swim during warm-up. Sure, you have to get your body warmed up, but this is your big opportunity to study the pool. Pay attention to the markings on the bottom of the pool and how they relate to the walls. For example, is there a distinguishing mark on the bottom at mid pool? This can be useful in gauging when to turn it on at the end of a race. How do the turns look as you approach the walls? How do the touchpads affect your grip for turning? Are there ropes or flags in addition to the 5-yard (or 5-meter) backstroke flags? If you’re swimming SCM or LCM, be aware that the backstroke flags should be at 5 meters rather than 5 yards. Learn your stroke count in THIS POOL from the flags into the wall.
Develop a standard "meet warm-up" for your team. At a typical championship meet for age-group and high-school/college swimmers, each team will be assigned a time slot for warm-up and will be assigned one or more lanes. To make the most effective use of your warm-up time (it might be only 25 to 30 minutes), it’s a good idea to develop a standard team warm-up. If you do this several weeks or months before the big meet, everyone will just KNOW what the warmup will be, and there will be a lot less confusion. A standard meet warmup might be 300 free or back, followed by 4 X 50 drill/swim in IM order (with everyone doing the same drill), followed by 4 X 50 free build the first 25.
Make stretching a part of the warmup. If your team has a time slot and limited warm-up time, you can augment that with stretches before or after the water time. Develop a simple stretch routine well in advance of the meet, so that everyone will know exactly what to do on race day. The idea is to have no surprises and limited confusion on race day. Plan ahead!
Take two suits. If there’s a big time gap between warm-ups and your first event, wear an older suit for warm-ups and then change into your racing suit. That way you’ll stay drier and warmer.
Don’t get rattled. Remember that on race day, EVERYBODY is facing the same crowded warm-up conditions. If you come to the pool with a PLAN, you’ll be that much ahead of your competition. Then just GO SWIM!