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.

Related: 10 Health Benefits of Swimming

Recovery Tips

“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.

Related: Low-Impact Dryland Training Plan for Swimmers

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.

3. Compression

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.

Related: 5 Reasons to Add Compression Sleeves To Your Training

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. Learn more here.

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.

Workout Ideas

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20 thoughts on “Recovery for Swimmers: What You Need to Know

  1. I recently gothe J&J💉shot and my breathing is REMARKABLY improved, so I’ve been pushing 3000m🏊🏾‍♂️continuous on my workouts and need2know if I keep increasing my distances how long do I need2rest b/t workouts (up to 10k hopefully

    1. Hi Troy! 3k continuous is impressive! Depending on how much you swim each week, at least 1 full rest day would be good to help your body recharge. As for rest between workouts, listen to your body! As you increase your distance, try to limit the increase to no more than 10% per week to give your body time to adapt. So if you swim 3k 3x per week (9k total per week), you’d increase your distance to 9,900 total the following week.

  2. Hi, im trying to swim 5-7 times per week and i have two questions: can i do a strength trainning workout plan besides swimming or will it damage my muscles? The second question is: If i swim everyday will i have any problem like losing muscle mass?

    1. Hi there! Doing strength training outside of the pool can help you prevent injuries and build endurance and power to help you swim faster! Swimming is a wonderful way to work out, but it can be limiting in terms of building muscle mass. If you currently train in the gym a lot and you switch to swimming, you may see a drop in muscle mass, but that depends on you individually. If you are able to incorporate 2-4 strength training sessions per week in addition to your swim workouts, that would be beneficial!

    1. Hi Erica, that is sometimes called “pool walking” or “pool running” and it can be a wonderful form of low impact exercise! It’s very different from swimming laps, though.

  3. I am 74 and have become very stiff since lockdown and no swimming. I have had chronic pain for years, arthritis in my back legs feet and arms, etc., nerve damage & fibromyalgia. I have been walking more in order to compensate for no swimming but my feet won’t allow a long walk.
    I had a 3 mile walk yesterday, which left me very tired as it was too long.
    I do pilates 3 times a week at home.
    I have just returned from my 1st swim, which was 20 mins in my local regular warm pool which has just opened. Nor,ally I feel better, cumulatively over the next 24 hours.
    But today I am aching everywhere and very uncomfortable. My feet are always numb but now fingers are tingling and numb. I have been lying in bed for 2 hrs with a hot water bottle. I am drinking, have eaten some fruit and carbohydrate.
    I feel absolutely rotten and unhappy. But I won’t give up. Advice welcome.

    1. We’re sorry to hear you aren’t feeling 100%! Keep resting, hydrating and eating well. Listen to your body and head back to the pool when you feel ready. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re cleared to swim!

    2. I’m 79 and sometimes I feel like you described. Fortunately I started to listen to the music for healing, my stress levels reduced much faster and I realized cortisol was reduced as well. By healing your mind with a healing music will help you with healing your body. The cost of trying is the benefit though!

    1. Hi Jennifer, you can try a chlorine removal body wash, like the one SBR Sports makes. Or, you can try putting an emollient such as Vaseline or Aquaphor on your skin before you swim to help create a barrier!

  4. Thanks for this information. I just learnt swimming recently and try to swim four times a week.
    Sometimes I get 💤 tired after the swim. I am sixty eight and needs some rest after each length . I love 💖 it.

  5. Recovery is a broad term, it can be attributed: immediately after cessation of maximum effort (rest break vs. cardio / interval training) or lifetime (hours, days) to another optimal workout. That is why I tend to attribute the term recovery as a break between two exercises (hours, days) {A} and in the case of ‘intercourse training’ I will refer to the moment of overcompensation when the biochemical lactacidemia decreases and the body has a better form superior necessity) to repeat a maximum effort {B}.
    In this relationship he succeeded in repeating an effort in optimal conditions; in the event that the coach does not notice this moment more intuitively (since lactacidemia testing prefers maneuvers that require more time), successful training is jeopardized and the perpetuation of this failure to “know” empirically the appearance of “overcompensation” will gradually lead when installing over-training (SGI-General Adaptation Syndrome, with known consequences …)

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