A Swimmer’s Guide for Surviving and Dominating the Big Meet

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for swimmers by clicking here.

You’ve put in the time at practice. Now it is time to put that work to use and swim out of your mind and faster than you ever have. Here is a quick field guide for mastering the environment and your performances at your next big meet.

Familiarize yourself with the facility and set-up.

If you aren’t competing on the first day of the meet warm up and prep as if you were so that the next day everything is familiar. Figure out in advance where the ready rooms and marshaling areas are. In the event of a long course meet, find out what end the 50’s will be starting from.

These are all little things you don’t need to be stressing about in the minutes before your race, so do the necessary recon in advance.

SEE ALSO: The Swim Meet Warm-up: What You Need to Know About Preparing to Swim Fast

Have a warm up plan in place.

Hopefully you have had enough experience at competition to know what it takes for you to prepare for optimal performance. As many swimmers and coaches know a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works for a team or group warm-up when athletes are performing a variety of events from 50 to the mile.

Have your warm-up plan in place before the meet so that you know what to do when you hop into the pool. It would be wise to have an out of the pool warm-up that you can fall back on as well in the event that the pool is bubbling with swimmers and you find doing the necessary yardage difficult to impossible.

Warm-up 20 minutes before the big race.

A common question swimmers have surrounds how much time they should aim to leave between warming up and their race. When a group of international level swimmers were split into two groups, one swimming an all-out effort 20 minutes after warming up, and the other waiting 45 minutes, the 20 minute group performed faster.

Scope out the heat sheets and make a guesstimation at what time you will be competing at, and either have a full warm-up plus a re-warm up (if your event is late in the session), or simply time yourself to complete your warm-up 20ish minutes before your race.

SEE ALSO: The Swimming Taper: How to Be Ready to Swim Fast When It Matters Most

Don’t mess around with your technique.

You have put in the hard work, honed in your technique, worked your starts, turns and breakouts to near perfection. The day you step on deck at a meet is the last time to decide that you are going to make some changes. It can be easy to fall for the need to make change—you see a fast swimmer doing a really neat-o start and breakout during warm-up that inspires you to wanna replicate him or her.

There is a time for experimentation, to make big changes in your swimming, and it is called “practice.” Swallow the urge to tweak with what has gotten you to where you are until after the competition is over.

Prepare for the environment.

If you are competing at an outdoor meet, have a plan in place to stay in the shade and out of the energy-sapping sun. If you know the stands and pool decks are going to be overflowing with swimmers, get there early and stake out a corner of the pool deck for you and your teammates.

Be aware of the challenges that the pool will provide and do your best to prepare for them.

SEE ALSO: How to Prepare for a Swim Meet

Warm down like a boss.

After your race, regardless of whether you swam according to expectations or not, make it a point to perform a comprehensive warm-down. Doing so will help flush your body of lactate and help get you prepared for your next race.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, sprinters require more of a warm-down than distance swimmers. Sprinters tend to have more muscle mass and a greater amount of fast twitch fibers, which create more lactate.

How much is enough? Over the course of three years of international competition British swimming found that blood samples signaled sprinters needed an average of 1,400 metres to return their blood lactate levels to normal.

Boost your warm-down by replenishing your glycogen stores with a carbohydrate solution and give yourself the best chance possible at swimming like a boss the next time you step up on the blocks.


Cazorla G. et al. (1983). The influence of active recovery on blood lactate disappearance after supramaximal swimming. Swimming Science IV. Human Kinetics, USA

Peyrebrune, M.(2006) Warm down and active recovery. English Institute of Sport.

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6 years ago

Would love to read the warmdown study. Have it handy by chance?

Reply to  swimmom291
6 years ago

I can tell you from personal experience I needed a good 20-30 min of warm down to feel loose and relaxed. But the bibliography is there you can always google it.

6 years ago

you forgot the last pointer, have a friend that will make you laugh on deck with you so you forget its a “big meet” and don’t psych yourself out

4 years ago

You should consult with the Australian national team for the next Olympics.

So much talent and expectations, and then they wilted when the pressure was on. Except for Kyle Chalmers, who may have been too young to Get the Big Meet Willies.

The Aussies’ best Olympics was in Sydney, when they didn’t have to travel from Down Under.

Reply to  Marklewis
4 years ago

What about Horton?
Did a pretty good job for someone they said couldn’t perform under pressure

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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