One of the major benefits of swimming for fitness is that it’s low impact on your body. Unlike running or other land-based physical activity, swimming doesn’t put as much wear and tear on your joints and muscles. Even though swimming may not cause the same aches and pains of these other sports, it’s still important that you give yourself an opportunity to recover after intense training or swimming competitions.
Our body needs rest days (or at least recovery workouts) to perform at our highest level and maximize the time we spend in the water. It’s important to know a couple of things about recovery and rest for swimmers in general. Can you swim everyday? How long should you rest? Find the answers to these questions and more below.
The Science Behind Recovery
During strenuous exercise such as resistance training or aerobic threshold intervals, muscle tissue develops micro-tears in response to stress. Immediately following exercise, the recovery process begins via acute inflammation. Read more about this science here.
Glycogen is the fuel that is stored in muscles for the conversion of energy. Carbohydrates are the main source of glycogen, and the liver mediates the conversion of glycogen into glucose for quick energy consumption during exercise. Besides fueling muscles during exercise, glycogen is also important for recovery, and inadequate glycogen stores can hinder the body’s muscle restoration.
“Anyone can work hard. The best have the discipline to recover.” – Lauren Fleshman
1. Post-Workout Snack
Within 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, swimmers should consume a 200-300 calorie snack that has a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 . This ratio is best for stimulating muscle growth by providing protein for muscle synthesis and carbohydrates for glycogen replenishment. Read more about this here.
2. Active Recovery
The science behind sports recovery has repeatedly illustrated that active recovery produces significant decreases in blood lactate concentrations when compared to other recovery methods. Active recovery focuses on movements that allow the blood to move and decrease residual fatigue in the muscles. Active recovery exercises could include a light continuous swim or yoga.
3. Warm Up Correctly
A Norwegian study found that a prolonged warm up before exercise was more beneficial for recovery than even a cool down. An adequate warm up consists of easy swimming focused on technique, kicking, technique drills; all of which gently prime the muscular and skeletal system for the work ahead, and mitigate the amount of damage sustained during the workout. Read more about this here.
Although there are conflicting reports whether compression is beneficial for speed, we do know that compression gear can speed up recovery. Why? Compression socks and sleeves cause blood vessel dilation, allowing more blood to flow to the lower limbs. Read more about this here.
Can You Swim Every Day?
Absolutely! You can swim seven days a week, 365 days a year – and I know some people who do this! The key is moderating your intensity and duration so your body is fresh for each workout. One of the major benefits of sticking to a training plan is having this structure so you don’t burn yourself out.
If you want to swim everyday, often times it’s best to bake recovery days into your weekly routine. For example, you might follow the following routine:
- Monday: Endurance Freestyle
- Tuesday: IM Technique
- Wednesday: Speed Work
- Thursday: Short Recovery Swim
- Friday: Pace Work
- Saturday: IM or Endurance Freestyle
- Sunday: Off – Rest Day
The above 6-day per week schedule incorporates a dedicated day for a recovery workout along with one day completely out of the water. Depending on any other training you do, and what your goals are, you may want more or less recovery, but the key is having a plan and adjusting it if you find yourself breaking down too much.
What Does a Recovery Swim Workout Look Like?
The best recovery swim workout is one that engages the entire body and does just enough to flush out residual lactic acid from your prior workout. The volume of the workout is less of a factor compared to the intensity and duration of that intensity. For example, reference the workout below.
This 1,500-yard workout is less than 30 minutes and circulates the body through all the aerobic energy systems. Notice that it doesn’t touch the anaerobic energy zones. These higher intensity sets can produce too much lactate and fatigue, which is the opposite effect you’d like to achieve in a recovery swim.
Related: Training Zones For Swimming
Every swimmer has their own individual lifestyle. Of course, this affects your recovery – for better or worse. If we experience a lot of stress, are tired from work, are restless or when we are just not in the mood for anything, it is almost impossible to fully recover. Mental health is as important as your physical health.