The benefits of a good swim warmup

Swimming is a sport which is heavily reliant on good technique, rather than pure fitness, for performance. This is primarily because of the significant force of water upon your body as you move through it. The more efficient your technique, the faster you will be able to swim for the same effort.

Developing a good swim technique will help you to:

  • reduce the resistance (drag) of your body through water, and
  • increase your propulsion through water.

For this reason, a good swim warmup needs to be more than a few lengths of the pool. In your warmup you want to imprint efficient technique patterns, as well as switching on your muscles, joints and cardiovascular system. You can achieve this by including drills in your warm up so that when you begin your main swim set, you have already focused on the key aspects of your stroke, alignment, breathing or kick which require correction or refinement.

Drills should be done with attention and in a relaxed manner, so that you are able to concentrate on the specific sensations, movements and rhythm of each drill, and understand how it relates to your current swimming pattern. Prioritise drills that you have been recommended by a swim coach as these will be the ones that will be most effective at improving your technique and efficiency. If you don’t belong to a swim squad, and are unable to have your stroke analysed by an expert, then there are plenty of helpful swim websites with tips on how to identify any flaws in your swimming, and appropriate drills for improving your technique.

I suggest that you include drills frequently in your pool swims during your base training phase, as this is a time when you can afford to slow down and focus on quality rather than quantity. During your build and competitive phases, continue to include drills once a week so that you maintain technique improvements made. This is especially important if you are increasing volume, as you don’t want your technique to break down as you become fatigued in long sets.

The warm-up should make up 10 – 30% of your total swim volume, depending on the type of workload in your main swim session. It can be a good idea to include more drills before a short high intensity session, and equally before a moderate intensity long-distance session, so that you are more conscious of keeping good form throughout.

A basic warm-up for a strength focused session might look like this:

200m easy free style

6 x 50m drills

2 x 100m freestyle build (each 25m gets faster)

A basic warm-up for a speed focused session might look like this:

200m easy freestyle

4 x 50m drills

4 x 50m of 25m freestyle fast + 25m backstroke


Tips for Your Warm Up

First, loosen up:

Swim at least 200m (or 5 minutes) at a relaxed pace keeping intensity and heart rate low.

Second, focus and count:

A good way to notice the effect of a drill on your swim technique is to count your strokes per lap at the end of a set of drills. The goal isn’t to have a really low stroke count, but rather to be swimming at the same pace with more efficient technique and less effort – the aim is for your stroke count to naturally reduce over the duration of the set.

Aim for at least 300m of drills-based focus, including some ‘stroke count’ laps.

For example:

  1. 4 x 75m of 50m drill + 25m stroke count (300m total)
  2. 4 x 100m of 75m drill + 25m stroke count (400m total)
  3. 4 sets of 2 x 50m drill + 25m stroke count (500m total)

Third, speed up:

It can be useful to finish your warm-up with a touch of quick pace as a way to get your muscles and cardiovascular system fired up for the main session, without creating any fatigue. Aim for 200m of fast paced short intervals such as:

  1. 4 x 50m fast with 20 sec rest
  2. 2 sets of (4 x 25m easy – medium – fast – max) with 10 sec rest
  3. 4 x 50m of 25m butterfly + 25m freestyle, with 20s rest
  4. 2 x 100m build (25m each of easy – medium – fast – max)

4 thoughts on “The benefits of a good swim warmup

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