As a coach I have been guilty of setting 400m loosen as a warm up - in fact it became a mainstay to every session. Not that there is much drastically wrong with it, apart from the fact that it didn't really do much other than get the swimmer wet! Once in and the loosen completed we would then go into some building work and actually address 'warming up' (as opposed to the cooling down offered by a slow 400m in water colder than the air temperature on deck!) When I started to look at my warm ups a bit closer, I realised that I was just trying to 'take up' the first 20 minutes or so of a 2hr session, because usually what I wanted to get out of the session didn't require 2 hours...
The other issue I found with this is that in a competition there is rarely the opportunity to swim 400 loosen, do some build work, and then race! More so plod erratically in a packed pool for 20 minutes, do some dives, sit down for 2 hours and then race! The result of this (slightly less than scientific) self study was that I took the decision to pretty much get rid of pool warm ups (NB at competitions we will advise swimmers to get into the warm up session as a familiarisation process - dives, turns, check out the pool bottom etc. and usually this is sufficiently done when the sprint lanes open and some better quality swimming can be achieved).
In order to maximise the warm up process we utilise the RAMP process - and we do this before each session, on land, and we can then take it with us to competitions and do it before we race, ensuring we are primed and ready to go fast! But what is RAMP...
Raise the body temperature Activate and Mobilise the body, joints and muscles Potentiate (prime, get ready) the key muscle groups
Seems simple enough - so how exactly does it work?
R - this can be any activity that raises the heart rate and body temperature: skipping, jogging on spot, dynamic stretching, body weight squats/push ups for those more advanced... The key here is to get the slight layer of sweat on the backs of the hands and the upper lip - at this point the muscles should be the right temperature to be worked dynamically! 3 minutes is a good guide... try 20 seconds high knees jogging on the spot, 20 seconds rest and go 4x through, see if you get a little sweat on!
AM - this is the time to work on mobilising and activating the main muscle groups/joints etc that will be used during the activity - as we are looking at swimming that kind of gives us free reign on exercise selection because we are doing a full body sport. There will be areas such as the shoulders that are used more predominantly and which should be included in all mobility sections pre swim, otherwise focus on areas of weakness or include a variety so that from session to session all areas are covered at least once. 2-3 sets of 4 quality repetitions over 4 different exercises works well, or you could try a 5 in 5 combo - 5 exercises (45 seconds on, 15 seconds off) in 5 minutes for really covering all bases!
P - time to get the body primed and prepped and ready to swim fast. Explosive actions such as squat jumps (being very careful if on deck), power push ups, medicine ball slams, fast band work or even taking to the starting blocks and performing some 15m sprints is a great way of switching everything full on (the latter ideal at the start of any competition for working pool familiarisation, but dry side actions will be required and should;d be practiced also for when a block isn't available prior to a race!) Again here I like 2-3 sets of 4 repetitions... Give a small circuit a go: 4x squat jumps, 4x medi ball slams, 20 seconds fast band swimmers, rest a while and repeat, that'll get you cooking!
In total a good quality RAMP warm up will take approximately 10 minutes and it can be tweaked to take more or less time depending on the stage of proximity to your race.
We practice these warm ups prior to training sessions and then we hit the pool with fast stuff first so we are prepared to go at full speed from the first time we hit the water. This readies us for competition and ensures we are comfortable and competent at prepping the body to perform maximally, with minimal time and fuss!
Feel free to share some ideas by commenting below and keep tuned in for more on our mobility series starting next month!