Stop Doing General Warmup

Today, I'm swimming in my first swim meet for four years (more on that in another post after the weekend). I will not be attending the general warmup sessions. This is something I haven't been doing for the entirety of my post-college career, and a practice that trickled into the college and club swimmers that I coached.

General warmup is just one of a large group of things that "we do" in swimming that don't make a lot of sense. What is the purpose of a general warmup? To get you ready to race in the subsequent events, right?

Let me use my own meet this weekend for an example. General warmup is taking place as we speak, from 8:00-9:00 AM. My race is due to jump in the water at 2:57 PM this afternoon. There is no way on earth that a warmup from 9:00 in the morning will carry forward six hours to my race.

"But wait!" you say. What about getting accustomed to the blocks at a new place, learning to sight the walls, etc. I happen to be swimming at a pool (Harvard University) where I have swam so many times I've lost count.

Chances are, many swimmers that you bring to a particular meet will be familiar with the facilities. If not, consider organizing some way for them to familiarize themselves with the pool well in advance of an early morning warmup that will not actually warm them up for their race. After all, you wouldn't be trying to teach them a whole knew technique the day of the meet, right?

Lastly, don't even get me started on the "wake-up swim" people. There are plenty of ways to get somebody fully awake well in advance of their race that don't include some useless laps. Oh, and please, please do not swim timed sprint or pace 25s in the warmup. I'll have to write an entire different post on that subject.

The real reason to skip general warmup is not what I've written above, dismissing some of the common reasons people do it. People who choose to do general warmup often see only the benefits without realizing the great costs that general warmup inflict on swimmers. Let me summarize

  1. These warmups are often early, and interrupt the natural sleep cycles of athletes, therefore interfering with recovery. The longer the meet, the bigger the impact. Seriously, try no general warmup at your next three or four day meet and see how much fresher everyone is by the last day.
  2. Time spent on the pool deck is not healthy, particularly at crowded meets where there is often poor air quality. 
  3. With anxious athletes, general warmups can often build tension for them, as they spend hours at the competition site waiting to compete. Bringing them to a competition site without a clear progression leading directly to the race can cause problems.
  4. Most swim meets are way too long. This causes cascading problems for us, as parents and swimmers start to weigh the cost of endless hours on the pool deck versus other things they could be spending their time on. Finding a more efficient way to do a swim meet can be a welcome boost.

All that said, there are some situations where you might find it best to have a particular swimmer or set of swimmers at a general warmup. I think those situations are fewer and farther between than what I witness at most swim meets.