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Tips and exercises for warming up your muscles effectively before a race

Training & Technique
Written by: arena coaches at 9 March '16 0
You are reading: Tips and exercises for warming up your muscles effectively before a race

Getting your muscles ready to work efficiently is extremely important before a training session, but even more so before a race. Sometimes you have to warm up in the water a long time before a race starts, meaning you do not really benefit from your warmup and have to start the race with your muscles cold and contracted.

Plenty of research has been carried out into warming up muscles, but unfortunately most of it is already outdated, partly because swimming technique and biomechanics have changed. At the beginning of 2015 Martens* reviewed all the research into warming up muscles in the pool and his own research produced some interesting tips for all the different swim strokes.

For the freestyle it was noted that the arm movements bring the upper trapezius, supraspinatus and deltoids into play (as your arm enters and re-emerges from the water and during the recovery phase). It is your chest muscles that work hardest during the pull phase, while during the final phase it is your large dorsal muscle that is exerted most. Of course we also need to take into account the use of both the biceps and triceps both during the initial catch phase and also the pull phase.

If you have TRX equipment available, perform the following drill a few minutes before the start of a race.

– Stand with your back facing the point where the straps are attached, take hold of the handles, place your feet facing forwards and, with your body leaning gently forwards and your arms extended, perform a push-up by leaning further forward and then returning to the starting position.
Perform 2-3 sets of 10 reps. Make sure you do not exert yourself too much, you are warming up not performing a strength exercise! (Watch this video to see an example of the drill )

When swimming the backstroke the main muscles involved are the deltoids and upper/front trapezius. Your scapulothoracic muscles also help keep your scapula in place to reduce any strain during the thrust phase. The subscapularis and teres muscles are used during the pull phase.

I recommend the following exercise, again use TRX equipment, for warming up the muscles used when swimming.

– Face the point where the straps are attached, take hold of the handles, place your feet facing forwards and, with your body leaning gently forwards and your arms also extended, push with your arms to straighten your body before returning to the starting position. (Watch this video to see an example of the drill)

When swimming the butterfly, you use your deltoid, supraspinatus and subspinatus muscles as your hands enter the water. Your chest and large dorsal muscles then provide most of the forward drive, while the teres minor and subscapularis help with internal rotation and stability. Let’s not forget the important role played by the lower body. Your hips and knees help provide a full leg kick, while your  rectus femoris, biceps femoris, tibialis anterior and rectus abdominis muscles do most of the work during the thrust phase

As for the first two swim strokes, I advise using TRX to warm up your shoulders.

– Starting in the same position as for the backstroke, reduce the angle of inclination of your body by extending your arms sideways into what looks like a “T” position (the name of the exercise is, in fact, the “T” Deltoid Fly). Watch this video to see an example of the drill.

I recommend the core-stability exercises already looked at in previous articles for the lower body.

The pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles provide most of the forward propulsion when swimming the breaststroke with the teres minor and subscapularis helping with internal rotation and stability. The supraspinatus and upper and lower trapezius muscles allow you to maintain scapular stability during the arm recovery phase of the breaststroke. Do not underestimate the importance of your lower limbs, since your tibialis muscles help with the leg kick. It has been noted that more efficient swimmers also have extremely strong muscles around their torso and hips.

I suggest performing squats using TRX equipment to warm up for the breaststroke.

– Starting in the same position as explained previously and with your arms almost extended, perform squats dipping down as low as possible. (Watch this video to see an example of the drill)

These exercises may be performed in a circuit, so as to warm up all your different muscle groups.

Remember that you are warming up, so do not perform too many reps or sets. Be careful not to try and improvise, if you have never used TRX in training, do not start using it before a race!

* Martens J, Figueiredo P, Daly D. Electromyography in the four competitive swimming strokes: a systematic review. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2015 Apr;25

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