If you are wanting to perform at your best you need to have a decent warm up! Starting a race cold is a fast way to fatigue.
It is hard to avoid starting a race with some sort of intensity, even if you try to relax and start slow adrenalin will always take you a little faster than you think. For this reason, you should always have your body warmed up ready to race no matter how slow you think you will start. Starting a race without a warm-up will put your body into shock and you may very quickly be out of breath and struggling as your muscles fill with lactic acid and seize up.
The first thing you want to do is get your muscles warm by exercising. Depending on your level this could be a swim anywhere from 100m to 1000m of nice and easy relaxed swimming. Swim until you feel your whole body is warm and your arms are turning over with ease.
Make sure your lungs have been stretched out and ready to breathe easily. Tight lungs in a race can really hold you back. You can stretch your lungs out by either doing deep breathing exercises in and out or by doing some fast sprints which get you breathing heavy.
Always make sure your heart is ready and warm before you start. Do something that raises your heart rate. The best thing to do this is to do some short swimming sprints that quickly raise your heart rate or some swims where you build your pace up to fast. Do not do too much of this, save yourself for the race.
Once you have finished your warm up it is vital that you keep warm. You can do this by putting on warm clothes straight after your warm-up particularly your feet, head, and hands. You can also limit your time between your warm up and your race start, however, it is best to get a little bit of a rest in after your warm up. Whatever you do make sure you get warm and stay warm.
If you have a race plan you will want to check your pace to make sure you know what your pace feels like. For example, if you have a goal of holding a particular time per 100m get someone to time you, or time yourself while you attempt to swim that pace. Check how close you are to it and note the feeling of it. This will also help to warm your body up ready for it.
Having a good stretching session before a race makes you feel great and helps to warm your muscles up. If you are going to do a big stretch routine make sure you are used to it. You do not want to introduce anything new that you are not used to in your warm up.
Make a warm-up plan working back from the start of your race. Know what time you are racing and know how long your warm-up routine will take and write down a plan. This helps you to be organized and eliminates the need to think about what you are going to do before you race on the day. Here is an example of a pre-race plan for a pool swim race.
Wake up 6am
Leave hotel 7.15am
Arrive at event 7.30am
Stretch and breathing routine 7.45am
Swim warm-up 8.05am
Finish warm up and get into warm clothes 8.25am
Race start 8.55am
Whatever you do to get yourself warm and ready before an event just remember the 4 main points to check.
Raised heart rate
Warm up and stay warm!
Carl is head coach at Swim360 Coach, a former Olympian and national champion freestyler. Carl now uses his skills and passion for coaching and competing in the open water.