Anatomy of my standard warmup

13 April 2022

I wish I could take all the credit for my habit of doing generally the same warmup every workout, but the props go to super-coach Dave Salo. I have never had the opportunity to train under him, but picked up this book back around 2009, shortly after it was published. In the opening sections, he explains that from both his time at Irvine Novaquatics and at The University of Southern California, he generally used the same warmup every practice and a slightly different variant of that at every meet.


The primary reason for doing this is to then listen to your body, understand how you feel, how you perform against a standard you're very familiar with. As a largely self-coached swimmer, this habit will sometimes lead me to change my focus, my planned workout ... and even, sometimes, convince me to scrap the whole affair for the day.


I took his pre-meet warmup and created this, which also blends in at least one concept from an early age group coach of mine, Terry Laughlin, who went on to found Total Immersion swimming. Here is what I do and why I do it:

  • 1 x 400: IM done as 25 kick - 25 drill.

  • This is not at any noticeable level of intensity as my primary aim here is to feel the water, stretch out my strokes and understand how I am catching the water.

  • I will do single arm on the fly drills, usually with 2-3 dolphin kicks between strokes and over-emphasizing the undulation to wake up my core.

  • On backstroke, my preferred drill is double arm, as I find I can both focus on proper hand entry position and a deep pull, which also opens up my chest.

  • I still don't have a breaststroke drill I like, so I'm typically doing either pull with a dolphin kick (most often) or one pull two kicks.

  • On freestyle, I wear a snorkel so I can focus on sculling, really trying to awaken my fingers to feel the catch.


  • 4 x 100: freestyle swim with a snorkel, with a gentle descend, most often on 1:20 in yards (or up to 1:30 when I am out of shape)

  • I like to start early by swimming with a snorkel as that allows me to swim in a more balanced fashion and allows me to hyper focus on the connection from the snap of my kick through the hip rotation and extension of my arm before aiming for an "early vertical forearm" catch.

  • Here's where I put some sage advice from Terry Lauglin to work. Swimming speed is simply Stroke Length (or distance per stroke) times Stroke Rate. He would prescribe sets where you played with these variables in a variety of ways. What I try do in my warmup is to make my descend happen by changing my stroke rate, but the way I go about this is to gradually increase the number of strokes per length (SPL). So, on my first 100, I will go 9-10-10-11 by 25; then my aim is to add one stroke per length per 100 (e.g,, 2nd 100 is at 10-11-11-12, and so on). I generally find this is a great way to gently build up my speed.

  • My results here are a really good indicator of where the workout is likely to go, a good barometer for how I am feeling.

Pause for a Shout-Out

I need to shout out here to Lindsey Urbatchka as it was she, on June 13th, 2013, who finally taught me how to swim and flip turn with a snorkel. I had tried and not been able to do this for a number of years, going no more than a 25 with a snorkel. I was dropping in for a Mesa Aquatics Masters workout, struggling again. I wrote in my USMS blog at the time, "All praise for this accomplishment goes to Lindsey Urbatchka, one of the speedy MAC Masters swimmers who saw me struggling earlier in the workout with my snorkel -- first when I refused to even try flip turns and then, once I did try, as my snorkel kept getting ripped off my head as I pushed off. Her advice amounted to streamlining with a twist -- "wrap your streamline around your snorkel" were almost her exact words. With that little phrase, something clicked in my mind and I had it."


  • 4 x 100 or 8 x 50: kicking, again focused on descending and gradually building speed.

  • Most often, I will do 4 x 100 IM kick descend, alternating odds on my stomach and evens on my back. This is my favorite as it warms up all strokes.

  • Every so often, I will throw on my fins to work on my underwater dolphin kicks. If I do, I'll go 8 x 50 where I focus on two rounds of 4 going 6-7-8-9 as fast as possible (AFAP) dolphin kicks off each wall by 50, going 25 on my belly and 25 on my back. After the fast dolphin kicks, I rotate over and do relatively moderate backstroke kick.


  • 6 x 50: typically on 0:55 to 1:00 in yards

  • I am almost always training for Individual Medley racing, so I want to warm up all strokes.

  • I will do the first and last 50s as easy freestyle with a snorkel, usually going 25 swim and 25 scull.

  • On the middle four 50s, I aim to do one each stroke, IM order, building over the 50 to about 85-90% effort. This is a great way to build upon the prior warming up to get ready to go faster efforts on my main sets.

  • This is the second "checkpoint" on where my body is "at" for the day, and I might make main set adjustments based upon how this goes.


  • 8 x 25: on 1:00 per pair

  • I go right into this after the last 50 easy on the prior set

  • This is all about speed and max effort, so I do the odd 25s as AFAP stroke in IM order, the even 25s easy

I wrap up with a 50 easy and usually get this 1,750 yards done in about 33-35 minutes.


Now, on days when I don't have enough time to train, I'll shorten this to 1,500 or do an even more condensed 1,000 yard version, but I prefer the longer version.

Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Twitter Basic Square