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Coaches Blog

The Perfect Swim Warm-Up

Ah, swim warm-ups! Warming up for a sport that requires the athlete to jump into a body of water anywhere between ten and twenty degrees below body temperature (even colder if we are talking open-water swimming) can be a tall ask.

The goal of any warm-up is to increase body temperature to where the athlete begins to sweat. The athlete should be breathing hard at the end of a warm-up but should not feel tired. Over the years, as an athlete and coach, I have found a few go-to warm-up techniques that have been effective.

Pool Swimming- How to structure a warm-up:

There are three main ideas I use to structure a swim warm-up:

  1. Long to short- I like to move through a swim warm-up starting with longer, more general efforts such as 400, 600, or 800 and move toward shorter efforts, often ending with 25s.

  2. General to specific- Starting with general swims allows the athlete to warm up the whole body rather than focusing on only one stroke. I like to incorporate all four strokes early in the warm-up, then focus on the main stroke(s) for the session near the end of the warm-up set.

  3. Slow to fast- This is a common theme of many warm-ups. A runner doesn't take off sprinting in the first steps. As always, it is essential to warm up the body before asking it to move quickly to avoid injury and to increase performance.

Example of a warm-up set:

400 swim choice

200 kick

100 scull

4x75 IM order kick/ drill/ distance per stroke by 25

6x50 drill/ build primary stroke(s)

8x 25 Speedplay

2 Rounds:

  1. ½ fast ½ easy

  2. ½ easy ½ fast

  3. All easy

  4. All fast

4x25 fast 3-cycle breakout, then easy

Pool Swimming- Meet Day Warm-up:

Meet warm-up is a special beast. It can be challenging to warm up properly in overcrowded lanes with athletes swimming at different speeds. There is no one answer, but here are a few things to consider.

  1. Have a well-rehearsed plan. When an athlete arrives at the pool knowing precisely what to do, it helps relieve pre-race stress and anxiety.

  2. Incorporate dryland activities, including active stretching, jump rope, and jumping jacks before getting into the pool and between races. The goal should be to increase body temperature so the athlete begins to sweat.

  3. Be assertive! If an athlete waits for the "perfect" spot in a crowded lane, they may not have time to finish their warm-up. The athlete should be assertive and prioritize their warm-up.

  4. Ensure athletes work on breakouts, turns, and starts at race speeds. Each pool is different, and the athlete needs to adapt to the individual facility.

  5. While on deck, athletes should stay warm. Wearing closed-toed shoes and socks, parkas/jackets, and even hats and gloves can help the athlete maintain a higher body temperature.

Open Water Swim Warm-up:

Open water races have many different variables- weather and water conditions, race distance, and access to warm up in the water, or other gear such as a towel. In many cases, open-water swims begin in the morning when the air temperature is low. Prioritizing increasing and maintaining body temperature will likely benefit the athlete the most.

Open water swims also tend to be longer distances, which allows the athlete time to "warm up" in the first part of the race. The athlete should consider the individual race conditions in advance and have an appropriate warm-up strategy.


Coach Sydney brings more than 20 years of swimming experience to Team MPI as both a swimmer and coach. As a swimmer, she was a Colorado State Champion, State Record Holder, and All-American. She moved on to compete for the University of North Texas, an NCAA Division I team, qualifying for National Invite and Conference USA Championships. As a coach, Sydney has coaching experience at the NCAA Division I level with UNT and is now the Head Coach for the Colorado Torpedoes in Manitou Springs, CO.


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