Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part Three

By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

You’ve done all the work in practice. You’ve mentally psyched yourself up for a busy night of finals, and convinced yourself you will breeze through them with Lochte-esque finesse. You arrive at the pool for warm-up, peruse the heat sheet, assessing and analyzing the competition in the lanes beside you. You change into your training suit, waste time talking to a few teammates, and finally, head over to the pool for warm-up. But if you are facing three different events that evening, a la Ryan Lochte in Barcelona, how do you possibly prepare?

Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part One
Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part Two

There are multiple factors to consider when warming up for multiple events, the most important being how much time you have between events. Of course, one minute here or there could make a difference, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s approach this with three time categories: less than thirty minutes, thirty minutes to an hour, and more than an hour.

Less Than 30 Minutes
AKA The Racing Suit Warm-Down

If a swimmer has less than thirty minutes between races, it would be wise to at least try to cover all the bases during warm-up. Let’s use Lochte’s line-up as an example: 200 backstroke-100 butterfly-200 freestyle. Although the majority of warm-up may be backstroke-dominant, with drills, under-waters and 200 pace, it would make sense to include a bit of butterfly and freestyle as well. Of course, you may not want to do pace for all three races, because that could be too much especially on a night that will no doubt be exhausting. But, with less than half an hour between races, most of the time in between will be spent on flushing out lactic acid, not preparing for the specific race itself: that is why it is important to at least touch on all the strokes you will be using that night.

No matter how tight the transition is, a swimmer should always get in the pool in between races. Lactic acid will continue to build after the race, and walking or other on-deck activities likely won’t be enough to rid the body of the swimmer’s poison. Beyond that, getting back in the pool can be a very important mental “reset” for the swimmer. Missy Franklin knew what she was doing when she warmed down in the diving well at the Olympics: when you consider walking through the mixed zone, even if you don’t stop for interviews, that wastes a lot of valuable warm-down time. Missy’s diving well warm down definitely made the difference for her 100 backstroke victory last summer in London.

30-60 Minutes
AKA The Bikini Top Warm-Down

Longer than half but shorter than a full hour can be an awkward amount of time because, although it is not an insanely tight turnaround, you certainly can’t dawdle. 45 minutes would give a swimmer enough time to catch their breath, slow their heart rate and flush most of the lactic acid from their muscles.
They can maybe even do a bit of pace for their next race: nothing crazy, maybe one 50 at 200 pace or a short 15-meter sprint. Because of the longer span of rest, a swimmer can spend the initial warm-up focusing on his or her first event, and save the other preparation for later on in the session.

However, a swimmer with an hour or less to prepare for a second or third event is not afforded the luxuries of shake outs or suit changes, and still must turn a blind eye to the media en route to the warm-down pool.

1 Hour Plus
AKA The Suit Change

Swimmers with more than an hour between events have many more luxuries, and can afford to warm up one event at a time, which is the easiest path mentally without a doubt. By only having to warm up for one event every time you hit the pool, you can better trick your brain into only thinking you have one race that night.

The big question facing swimmers here is: do I want to change suits in between races? Because of the girdle-like nature of our racing suits, especially for the women, it is often hard to get a full flush in a knee skin that is lovingly digging into your trap muscles. That being said, wrenching back into a wet racing suit is about as easy as getting the cat back into the bag. Ladies: unless you have brought extra dry racing suits with you, stick to just pulling down the straps to give your shoulders some relief. You will waste way too much time and energy getting in and out of suits otherwise.

With more than an hour, a swimmer can likely squeeze in a quick shake-out as well, if a massage therapist is available. Not only can a massage simultaneously relax and energize an athlete, it can rid the muscles of that final, stubborn, build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.

No matter how much time a swimmer has in between races, always save the media for the end of the night. The sooner an athlete can get to the warm-down pool, the better. Of course, at an international meet, you should go get your medals even if you have to swim again. Standing on the podium is an absolute honor, and might be the only form of standing that supersedes “saving your legs” for your race.

Depending on how much time you have to spare in between races, there are different physical approaches when it comes to warming up for and warming down after your races. The key is warming down as much and as efficiently as possible, regardless of the time crunch: pull a Missy Franklin and hit the diving well if you have to.

We have now reviewed the physical preparation needed both before and during the competition, along with the mental psych-up necessary prior to the start of the meet in order to swim multiple events successfully in a single session. Tomorrow we will delve into how to prevent crumbling under the pressure.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o

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