Before we get into the topic of swimming for recovery, let’s discuss healthy training stimulus vs overreaching.
Remember, training makes you worse, and it’s only when your recovery takes place do gains materialise.
A first-year athletes training stimulus should be pretty different from a seasoned athlete, and age is also a factor in determining appropriate motivation and recovery.
Training fatigue signals that we stimulate the body out of our standard zones. Muscle tissue develops micro-tears during strenuous exercise such as resistance training or aerobic threshold intervals in response to stress. Immediately following a workout, the recovery process begins via acute inflammation.
Differentiating between day-to-day soreness and overreaching to the point of possible severe injury is a skill we need to develop.
A good coach and coaching feedback and following a progressive overload program with proper periodisation can keep you in the healthy zone of an appropriate stimulus. As a guideline, if it took you three to five days to recover from a workout, you overreached.
Before we discuss active vs passive recovery, let’s discuss the foundations of recovery – Hydration, nutrition and sleep.
Water is essential for everyday health, and it is even more important to do so when exercising. Swimming can be deceptive when it comes to sweat loss, as you don’t realise just how much they sweat in the pool. It can be 1 to 2 kgs per hour.
A suitable Electrolyte before, during and after workouts can make a world of difference with recovery. The Electrolyte should cover a broad spectrum of trace elements to mitigate depletion, which could severely interfere with the cellular processes involved in healing.
There are many positive benefits from training fasted in an endurance phase; however, many will benefit from slow-release complex carbohydrates and protein one to two hours before a workout.
After training, a protein shake with a banana maximises the recovery process Protein builds muscle, improves immune system function, and increases body metabolism to burn more body fat.
Protein always needs an energy source to enter the muscles efficiently, so something quick release such as banana is good for maximising protein synthesis.
Aside from fuel exercise, glycogen is also vital for recovery, and inadequate glycogen stores can hinder the body’s muscle restoration.
3. Get plenty of sleep
Of course, a hard workout will help you to sleep more deeply. Research shows that around eight hours of sleep is optimal for health and recovery.
We would also add that having an appropriate REM and Deep sleep (around 2 hours each) within the eight hours is also very important; fortunately, there are many devices on the market now to monitor sleep to make adjustments where necessary.
Swimming is a long recognised form of exercise for all ages and abilities.
Along with its cardiovascular benefits, the load-bearing nature of the water relieves joint and muscle problems making it an excellent option for recovery.
There are two types of recovery – Active and Passive.
Passive is a total rest from exercise and activities, where you engage in light activity to improve blood flow and enhance recovery.
Active recovery is essential for several reasons –
- Improve blood flow to muscles and joints
- Create alternate movement patterns to avoid overtraining
It can be part of a cool down or the day after training. An activity outside of your standard movement patterns, such as swimming for runners and cyclists, has many advantages and can be very time effective where a little time spent goes a long way.
Tools can also be beneficial, such as Intermittent Compression, massage and myofascial release, such as foam rollers.
Given its overall suitability across ages, swimming is an excellent choice for active recovery. The Horizontal nature of swimming is very efficient for blood flow. The alternate movement patterns to other sports such as cycling and running optimise blood flow in new areas in a low impact way while optimising the movement of muscle groups and joints may not be possible in your primary sport.
Swimming benefits include –
- Builds muscular endurance:
- Tones the body:
- Variability of workouts from Easy Cardio or HIIT workout:
- Safe for the joints:
- Boosts cardiovascular system due to the hypoxic nature of Freestyle
Aside from active recovery, runners have also maintained their running fitness while recovering from injury by running in water with a buoyancy vest.
The other benefit of swimming for recovery for non-swimmers is its hypoxic nature and tremendous cardiovascular benefits, particularly with Freestyle. The good news is the poorer you are as a swimmer, the greater the upside. These benefits will carry over to your primary sport.
How often in a week should I swim?
30 to 60 mins once or twice a week will give you great recovery benefits and will likely improve your primary sport’s quality of training.
Swimming every day as recovery may be counterproductive. If you intend to swim more often, it would be good to get some lessons from a swim coach as the poor technique could backfire and lead to the dreaded Swimmer’s shoulder, impingements or inflammation of the soft tissue in the shoulder. Swimmers shoulders can take months to heal, so better to avoid overuse.
We recommend Freestyle as your primary stroke. It is the best total body recovery of all the strokes, engaging the broadest range of muscles and having the most significant cardiovascular benefit.
Swim Toys to help beginners
Swim toys can help beginners with the water’s buoyancy and body position, making swimming as active recovery much more fun. Here are a few of my recommendations
- Swim fins – really assist with buoyancy and body position. They also are a great way to mobilise the lower body and core with great cardio benefits as you become more efficient. (recommend Finis zoomers)
- Pull Bouy – another buoyancy aid, held between the legs to allow the swimming to focus on the upper body aspect of Freestyle while immobilising the legs. (get the speedo to pull Bouy as its larger and can double as a kickboard)
- Swim paddles – worn on the hand to create extra resistance to work the swim muscles. Proceed with caution as poor technique can create shoulder issues. Suggest consulting a coach.
How do swimmers recover from swimming?
1. Post-Workout Snack
Within 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, swimmers should consume a 300 calorie snack with a balance of carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 . This ratio best stimulates muscle growth by providing protein for muscle synthesis and carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment.
2. Active Recovery
Active recovery significantly decreases blood lactate concentrations by increasing blood flow specific to the activity. Functional recovery exercises could include a light continuous swim or yoga.
Low impact dry land exercises with exercise bands can also be beneficial. A proper strength and conditioning program in the gym to muscle balance and core strength is helpful to efficiency and recovery.
Mix your strokes up and change the movement patterns – for example, backstroke is an excellent counter to Freestyle and will help to balance muscles and recovery.
3. Warm Up Correctly
Prolonged warmup before exercise was more beneficial for recovery than even a cool down.
An adequate warmup consists of easy swimming focused on technique, kicking, and technique drills, gently priming the Swimmer mitigating the amount of damage sustained during the workout.
Intermittent Compression can be an excellent bio-hack for a warmup – 10 minutes worth boosts muscle oxygen to the point that may otherwise take 30 to 40 mins, at a much lower metabolic cost.
4. Bad technique will find you out
If you plan to ramp your swim volume, pay close attention to your technique to stay efficient and injury-free. Some swimmers are very upper body-centric and neglect the benefits of a good kick for buoyancy and propulsion. In doing so, they overload the shoulders, leading to injury. Learn to balance the load between upper and lower body – A good coach and regular checks via video (using a mobile phone) will be an asset.
Whereas compression garments have limited effect, intermittent compression is a great way to promote blood flow at a low metabolic cost, eliminate swelling and promote faster healing.
Different cuffs are available to treat Arms, legs and hip and glute; all benefit swimmers.
Can swimmers Swim Every Day?
Absolutely! If swimming is your sport, then yes, you can swim seven days a week, 365 days a year. A proper program including strength and conditioning will be your key to your recovery and sustainability, including the risk of burnout.
Getting you started – 30-Minute Active Recovery Swim For Beginners
(note – if you are very new and maybe slower, don’t focus on distance, focus on time instead. )
Rest 1 min between sets and ensure you drink.
100 to 200 m Freestyle or 10 mins
100m or 5 mins kick with fins and pull buoy (use as a kickboard)
3 x 100 m or 8 to 10 mins freestyle with fins
1 x 100m or 4 mins pull buoy and paddles
3 x 100 m or 8 to 10 mins freestyle with fins
100 m freestyle warm-down.
As you become more efficient, suggest adding some threshold sets of
will be beneficial such as
5 x 100m max speed Freestyle with Fins with 1 min rest between,
pushing harder for this set may seem contrary to recovery but the
The weight-bearing nature of the water makes this a very forgiving activity and will supercharge blood flow, mainly when using fins.