The Case for Using Your Swim Meet Warm-Up in Training Each Day

Looking for an edge on race day? Here’s why swimmers should consider using their swim meet warm-up each day at swim practice.

Santo Condorelli is a two-time Olympian, winning a silver medal as part of Italy’s 4x100m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.

He previously competed for Canada on the international stage and is now racing for a spot on the US Olympic Team for the Paris Olympics.

(Yes, Condorelli is swimming’s Mr. Worldwide.)

In a recent interview with SwimSwam, Condorelli discussed his path to competing for a spot on the American team in 2024 (stemming from a desire to be nearer to his father, who is dealing with some health issues).

He also discussed his warm-up process in training, which replicates the same warm-up that he uses in competition. I love this approach, and it demonstrates the kind of intention and purpose that swimmers can use to chase greatness for themselves.

In this article, we will discuss this relatively unique approach, its benefits, and what swimmers and coaches can learn from this strategy.

Let’s dive in.

The Swim Practice Warm-Up: Warm-Up to Swim Fast

I’ve written about Santo before; in my mental training book for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset.

In it, we discuss Santo’s, um, unique pre-race routine, which includes flipping off his old man.

But back to the warm-up!

In the aforementioned video, Condorelli discusses his approach to the daily warm-up at swim practice, the length of his workouts, and how he times the warm-up to simulate a racing session.

He gets to the pool an hour before practice, just like a session at a swim meet.

He arrives:

“An hour before I get in the water to warm-up, like I’m going to warm-up before a race.

“It’s the same warm-ups I’m going to do here [in competition].”

Even though he doesn’t train a lot, spending one to 1.5 hours in the water, he shows up an hour before practice and goes through the same motions as if he were at a swim meet.

The goal is pure intention. Leave nothing to surprise. Making high-performance readiness habitual.

When racing and competition blend, you can stack race-quality repetitions, lessening the pressure and worry that something will go awry on race day.

“Everything has a purpose to it… When I’m getting in the water, I’m eliminating all distractions and anything that could go wrong.”

The result, he notes, is a heightened sense of preparation when he steps up on the block.

“So when I come here to race, it’s less I have to worry about.”

Benefits of Using a Meet Warm-Up Each Day at Practice

Doing the same warm-up may sound boring, rote, repetitive.

But that is the idea.

It’s designed to take the feelings of the exceptional from a swim meet warm-up, when we are over-analyzing everything we are doing, second-guessing how we feel in the water, and potentially doing too little or too much in the water, and systematizing it to place high-performance swimming on auto-pilot.

There are several reasons I really love this approach:

Teaches you what you need to swim fast.

A consistent training warm-up systemizes the preparation for high-performance swimming and teaches you in real time what YOU need to swim fast.

With some repetition and experimentation, you come to deeply understand what you need to swim fast, taking the guesswork out of trying to find an optimal warm-up for race day.

Over the course of experimenting and tweaking your specific warm-up, you’ll learn some fun stuff.

  • Maybe it’s a series of core exercises that help “activate” your swimming muscles more deeply.
  • How adding some resistance kicking can help better fire your kick.
  • Or even a small, simple visualization sequence done before jumping in the water that helps you lock in your stroke.

Swimmers spend all year training for the Big Meet, and then show up to the pool and somewhat flail through the warm-up and preparatory hours before racing, hoping everything falls into place when it matters.

By repeating and refining the same warm-up routine, swimmers can eliminate the guesswork and develop a reliable pre-race strategy.

This consistency also helps swimmers build confidence in their warm-up, knowing it has worked for them in the past.

Develops a racer’s mindset.

Using the same warm-up in practice as competition encourages you to get into a competitive mindset more often.

Why does this matter?

One reason swimmers choke on race day is that they struggle to cope with the heightened pressure and intensity of competition. The excitement and nerves of competition are so starkly different from the chill, “easy” environment of training that they knock themselves off their game.

A practice mindset is safe, easy, and comfortable. It’s low stakes.

A competition mindset is intense and focused, with high feelings of arousal. High stakes.

Bringing a more competitive-oriented mindset to training helps you get comfortable with the feelings and pressure of racing, making it less weird when it happens at a more intense level at a swim meet.

Proof that you don’t need perfect circumstances to swim fast.

Doing the same warm-up in training as you do in competition has one other sneaky effect, and I’d argue it’s the most important of all.

Over time, it teaches you that you don’t need to feel “perfect” to swim well.

During the grind of the swim season, as the weeks and months of training pile up, we have days where we maybe aren’t feeling so hot on the way into the pool.

Our stroke doesn’t feel right. Lethargy has set in. School/work/life has us stressed out.

Whatever the case, these instances are natural when you consider the sheer number of workouts swimmers do in the pool.

These moments are crucial in your development as an athlete as they show you firsthand that you don’t need to feel perfect in the water to swim like a high-performance champion.

Over the years, some of my biggest ah-ha moments were days when I was tired and cranky pants on the way into the pool, not expecting much from my workout, and pulled out an absolutely blistering performance of a workout.

Warming up like it is race day, each day at practice, gives you ample opportunities to prove to yourself that you can swim fast even when circumstances aren’t perfect or ideal.

Wrapping Things Up

Condorelli is a top-tier, elite swimmer, and so this exact approach is obviously not going to work for every swimmer and every situation.

But there are some key takeaways that swimmers of all ages and abilities can take away from his approach to warming up.

For starters, bringing a more race-focused mindset to training can help swimmers better manage nerves and stress on race day.

Being more intentional in training can also increase focus and make each workout more meaningful instead of such a grind.

And giving yourself more opportunities to prepare yourself to swim fast, on a drowsy Thursday morning when you are stressed about upcoming exams, or in the midst of a big training camp, can demonstrate to you with clear-eyed confidence that you can swim fast even when you don’t feel perfect.

Ultimately, swim practice is about giving you the tools and preparation to be successful on race day.

And a big part of that is warming-up so that you can unleash chlorinated fury on your personal best times in the water.

Experiment with your warm-up, log the things that work, and swim fast when it matters most.

Swim on!


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, author, swim coach, and certified personal trainer. He’s the author of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, anecdotes, and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level in the pool?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.




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Mr Piano
1 month ago

It might work for Santo, but I started to go insane when my team temporarily started doing it even 4 times a week:

And conversely to what the article suggests I did overthink my performances in warmup. It could get really discouraging if I didn’t have the speed that I had just the day before, and I got sick of it.

I think for continual improvement and enjoyment in a sport in which who stare at a black line for hours a day, there needs to be a variety in stimulus.

If my team started doing it everyday, I would find another one. Once a week is just fine.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer, swim coach, and best-selling author. His writing has been featured on USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming, NBC Sports Universal, the Olympic Channel, and much more. He has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 …

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