Many people that do tough exercise and training know very well that sore feeling after a particularly tough training session. And swimmers are no exception. That burning sensation and aching that you feel in your muscles the following day is caused by lactic acid build up in the muscle fibers that must be removed.
And because most people are not aware of what they can do to remove lactic acid from muscles, we have come up with a list of recovery tips after some serious swim training sessions.
Tips to optimize recovery after swimming
Warm up and cool down properly
Yes - you still need to properly warm up and cool down for every swimming training session. Dynamic stretches for warm ups are needed to release lactic acid build up from previous training sessions, so you do not work out with “cold muscles”
Because swimming is a full body workout, you need to stretch and warm up every major muscle group. Hold stretches for up to 15 seconds and as much as possible try to avoid stretching in the water as this causes your body temperature to go down rapidly. If you must though - make sure that you keep moving in place: jog or keep swinging your arms for 20 seconds between stretches.
For cool downs, do an easy lap of 200 metres before going out of the pool, to help remove lactic acid in the muscles. Static stretches must be done after training as they stretch muscles and prevent cramping. If you have completed an intense training session and just stop swimming abruptly, you will feel sore and stiff. You can also use a kickboard to do these easy cool down laps. This way you still promote blood flow into your leg muscles without putting too much effort.
Hydrate. REALLY hydrate
Just because you’re swimming doesn’t mean you’re not sweating. You have no idea how much you sweat in the pool. Also, being surrounded by water tricks your brain into thinking that you’re not thirsty. Fact is, you’re exercising and spending a lot of energy and must rehydrate in order to replenish your energy stores and help muscles recover.
You need to drink at least 16 ounces of water two hours before training and another 8 ounces every 20 minutes. If you’re put off by the taste of water because of the chlorine from the pool, take a mouthful of sports drink every 20 minutes to replenish electrolytes.
Think of food as fuel - not something that would ruin your hard work
One of the biggest mistakes that swimmers - and even other athletes or fitness enthusiasts - make is waiting too long to eat after exercising or training. Worse, there are some that do not eat at all. They think that eating anything would negate all the hard work they just did in the pool. This is wrong.
Michael Phelps himself eats a total of 10,000 calories a day. Do you know why? Because swimming burns a lot of calories. And your body needs to replenish that in order to repair itself. If it doesn’t get nourishment within two hours of your training, the recovery phase slows down and you feel weaker, more achy and it would take a longer time for you to get back to training.
It’s okay that you don’t eat heavy meals before hitting the pool - as a matter of fact, this is not recommended. But you need to eat something that your body can use as fuel for the workout you are about to put it through. Before training eat a banana or some porridge for that much needed protein and carbohydrate mix. After training, go for a protein shake and banana mix to help with recovery.
Keep in mind that when you skip meals, your body goes into self preservation mode and your metabolism slows down. This means it doesn’t burn through fat and you actually hurt all the hard work you just did during training.
Sleep is important
You have heard and read about this countless times, but it does not make it any less true: You need to get plenty of sleep. Ideally you need to get about 8-10 hours a night, but if for some reason that isn’t possible - make sure that you compensate by taking naps throughout the day.
Your body does most of its recovery work while you sleep, so this is an important part of training. So make sure that you keep gadgets away from your bedroom. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool (ideal temperatures for sleep is between 19-21 degrees Celsius) and get into a bedtime ritual that would prepare your body and mind for sleep.
Active recovery days are a must
While there is nothing wrong with spending a day for complete recovery (read: not doing any form of exercise), some athletes and nonathletes find it difficult to get back to their training after a day of passive recovery. This is why including active recovery days as part of your training is important.
Active recovery, if you do not already know, involves low impact exercises that promote blood flow into the muscles you trained, allowing for quicker recovery. The blood flow lowers residual fatigue and lactic acid build up in the muscles so you feel less achy and stiff. The goal is to keep those muscles moving to induce recovery, but not to the point that it gets even more stressed. Active recovery exercises can include light yoga, an easy, 20- minute swim, going for a walk or a bike ride.
Use compression gear
While there is still ongoing debate whether or not compression actually helps make one a better, faster swimmer - compression DOES help speed up sports recovery for athletes. And why is that?
Compression gear like sleeves, socks and hand wraps work by dilating the blood vessels. This results in improved blood flow to your limbs. And we have said it countless times: better blood flow reduces swelling, muscle fatigue and muscle aches.
Moderate the intensity of your training
This means that you CAN swim every day. In fact, we have highlighted that active recovery exercises (which includes swimming) is crucial for sports recovery. The key is to moderate the duration and intensity of your training sessions. Not only will this help you make a better, faster swimmer, not going all out every training day prevents you from getting burnt out.
So, if you’re doing IM techniques on Mondays, opt for speed work on Tuesdays and maybe an endurance freestyle training on Wednesday. Get the idea? Mixing up training intensities and duration keeps everything interesting, challenging and of course, never forget your recovery swim days.
Your training plan depends a lot on what you want to achieve, and how much time you want to spend on recovery. Set a plan but be flexible enough to adjust if you find that you’re being a bit too hard on yourself.
Get a post workout massage
After intense swim training, your muscles develop knots and micro tears. This is normal because you use more force to move across the water. Keep in mind, water is several times denser than air - so swimmers exert more effort when moving compared to runners. The result: muscle fatigue, micro tearing and lactic acid build up.
One way to keep blood flow going and promote muscle repair is to use a massage gun like HYDRAGUN. These devices are what helps muscles recover faster, as it breaks down lactic acid build up in the muscles, so you feel more relaxed and less achy from the exercise.
One of the major appeal of swimming as a sport is that although you ARE getting a full body workout every time you hit the pool, it does not cause as much wear on your muscles and joints as let’s say running. BUT - it still causes enough muscle fatigue to warrant a handful of recovery tips from fitness trainers and master swimmers alike.