Warmup ‘Happens’: How to Prepare for Practice
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 26th, 2010

This post was inspired by a thread in the Links and References conference of the TI Discussion Forum entitled “Interesting Warmup.” Click here to follow the full discussion.

TI enthusiast Richard Skerrett posted a link to an article in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail on how to warm up for a workout, with the comment:

“At the end of this article, which is fairly interesting in itself, there is an example of Canadian sprinter Brent Hayden’s warm-up for his events. They inhabit a different world, I think.”

Brent is the Canadian record holder for the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyles in both 25m and 50m courses.

As Richard says, elite athletes do inhabit a different world from the rest of us. Being young and  in probably the top .01% of all humans in fitness and athleticism (as the photo of Brent illustrates), his “warmup” would exhaust -or as likely injure – most of us.

But more revealing to me is the concept expressed in the article of how one should prepare for swimming. The word “Warmup” carries a distinctly physiological view. One literally does warm up the body, muscles and blood to prepare for physical exertion. Increases in core and muscle temperature result in reduced viscosity of the blood and greater suppleness in the muscles. This view doesn’t reflect only the view of the writer and physiologists. It reflects how virtually the entire world thinks of swimming. I.E. As a Workout.

In contrast, a TI Swimmer thinks of  swimming as a Practice  –devoted as much to pursuing happiness, mastery and self-knowledge as to improving skill,speed or stamina.

One prepares for a Practice in a far more subtle and complex manner than for a Workout. Our goals should be to:

1) Calm and center the mind, leaving behind distractions from whatever we’d been doing “outside” before practice.

2) Choose an intention for our practice. In every practice my intention is to emerge from the pool: (a) happier than when I entered it; and (b) a better swimmer (in some measurable way) than I entered it.

3) “Tune up” the neural system for the tasks we’ve chosen to achieve our intentions.

4) Bring mind and body into alignment around the chosen tasks.

Whether this process takes 10, 20 or 30 minutes, the physiological warmup described above happens. Just as we say that “Conditioning happens.”

The inspiration to view preparation for swimming in this manner came to me from reflecting on how we typically spend the first 10 or so minutes of a yoga class. If you practice yoga, or tai chi — or perhaps dance or the violin — consider how you prepare for those, then think about how your swimming practice might more closely resemble them.

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