Warming up is another one of those things in swimming that is often debated.  The fact that warm-up is necessary is rarely contested, but the amount of warm-up needed for a swimmer to perform his or her best is often debated.  Many have attempted to break warming up into a science determined by specific components.  We firmly believe this is impossible.  Gugly believes each person should warm-up differently.  However, many swimmers are ill-informed and some get a little lazy when it comes to warming-up.  "Why do a mini-workout right before my big race?"--is what some think.  It is, however, very important.  As with everything, preparation is at least half the battle.  Below we list some of the considerations that a swimmer should think about when judging how much warm-up to do.

Goals.  The goals of a warm-up are this;

  • To stretch out the muscles
  • To increase blood flow throughout the body and especially to the muscle groups needed for the race
  • To get a 'feel' for the water, more technically known as priming the neuromuscular system
  • To get used to the environmental conditions, like water and air temp, walls, blocks, etc.
  • To make last minute stroke adjustments prior to the race.

Event.  Much of what you do in warm-up will depend on what event(s) you plan on doing.  If you are going to sprint, you will most likely want to get in a few 75-90% one lap sprints during the warm-up period.  Some distance swimmers like to get in a few yards/meters of sprinting just to get their muscles primed for the last few seconds of their race.  Strokers will want to practice their strokes for obvious reasons.

Our staff of Gugly coaches prefers to err on warming up a little too much rather than not enough.  Even sprinters should get in at least a 500 of easy swimming plus their sprint warm-ups.  Rarely do well trained swimmers get themselves tired from a warm-up, but often times they don't warm-up enough.

Body Type. The makeup of a swimmer's body is supposed to be linked to how much warm-up is needed.  It is theorized that larger bodies, especially those with large muscle mass, should warm up a little bit longer than those with more petite physiques.  The theory claims that it takes larger people longer to get their blood adequately circulated throughout their larger muscles.  It also asserts that more stretching is also necessary to loosen the muscles up, especially if the muscle groups are shorter vs. longer.  This is because shorter, more dense muscle groups are more tight by nature and need more time to get loose and 'warm'. 

Point In Cycle. Where a swimmer is in his or her training cycle will also play a part in how much warm-up gets done.  Swimmers in the middle of their cycle may need less warm-up than those at the end of their cycle or during a taper.  This theory is believed to be true because the effects of warming-up or working out muscle groups are thought to last about a day in varying degrees.  If a swimmer has recently worked these muscles, then they may need a little less work to get them going.  But in a taper situation, where the muscles are rested much more often, a longer warm-up should produce better results.  Sometimes, swimmers do the opposite, because during a taper, they feel so good and loose.  Don't be fooled though.  It may be to your detriment to slack off in warm-up for your biggest meets.

Is this an absolute truth?  No.  But it seems to make sense, and may be true for many people.  Each athlete needs to judge the true effect on him or her individually.

Environment. The environmental conditions in which the warm-up and race will occur also play a role in how a warm-up is done.  If the pool and/or air temp is very cold, a longer warm-up is usually necessary. Muscles that have been at rest tend to take longer to warm-up in a cold environment. If warm-up lanes are crowded, it may also take a little longer to get a good feel for the water and get a feel for your stroke technique. If lighting is poor, extra time should be taken to practice sighting the walls and the lane lines.

Timing.  The anticipated amount of time between the warm-up and the race has an affect on the amount of warm-up needed.  The longer the wait, the more warm up should be done. Additionally, the intensity of the warm-up should also be picked up a notch if the event is further away.  However, if the time allotted for warm-up is slim, then intensity should be increased to compensate for the lack of time that can be used.

Experience. A swimmer's own personal experiences with warming up are probably the biggest guide to determining the proper warm-up.  Using workouts and past races as guides, each swimmer should be able to objectively put weights on the factors above without letting laziness factor into the equation.  Using those experiences, he or she should be able to customize their own warm-up to maximize success.  If a swimmer has had success in the past with a long, relatively easy warm-up, and if another has done well with short, but highly intense warm-ups, then each swimmer should do what works.  One caveat, however, is that swimmers should always pay attention to how they warm-up and the results each produces.  They should attempt to experiment with different warm-ups for less important events and with workouts, and gauge the results for use in more important events.  Continually try to improve on the formula--don't get lazy!

All of these factors play a part in how a swimmer should pursue his or her warm-up.  The weights given to each factor are dictated by personal preferences and experiences.  Many very good swimmers may warm-up very differently from how textbooks would recommend based on body type and events being swum, because of how they have performed in the past and what they prefer.  We know many swimmers that have found through past races and workouts that an extremely grueling warm-up helps them.  Others have done best with virtually no workout.

As a result, Gugly's stance on the issue is that everyone is different mentally and physically, therefore everyone needs to warm-up in a different manner.  It is up to the swimmer to judge how much warm-up is needed.  A swimmer must, however, be aware of the factors that theoretically should affect a swimmer's warm-up and race correlation.  And, by combining what they know with what they have experienced, they can create an optimal warm-up for them.