You hit the weights, hit the trails, or spend the weekend crushing it on the courts—and now your body is screaming for some sweet relief. There are a lot of options for post-workout care: You can hit the hot tub, go for a massage, roll it out on a foam roller, or as most athletes and gymgoers tend to prefer, do as little as possible.
If you want to bounce back a little faster so that you can get back to working out, there is a growing body of evidence that shows how effective active recovery can be for hitting reset on your body.
In particular, heading down to the local pool and swimming out your soreness and fatigue with some laps is an effective way to bounce back after a rough workout.
Here are some of the perks of using swimming for active recovery:
Swimming for active recovery decreases inflammation. One study (Lum D. et al, 2010) had a group of triathletes do a 2,000m recovery swim ten hours after performing a high intensity running workout. When the triathletes came back the next day to be tested again, those who did the recovery swim performed an average of 14% compared to the control, also showing significantly less c-reactive proteins, a bio-marker for inflammation.
Swimming is light on the joints. For lifters, runners and other athletes who participate in high-impact activity on their joints, ligaments and bones, getting some active recovery in the pool can be a refreshing change of pace. The weightlessness in the water means that you aren’t throttling your joints. You can get a full range of motion workout without the grind and pound that comes with most land-based training.
Swimming is oddly meditative. Getting into the water is also a great way to crack down on stress by getting some silence while churning around the black line. “One of the great things about getting in the water and doing a workout is that it’s an opportunity to disconnect from the stress and B.S. that is happening in the real world,” says Olivier Poirier-Leroy, a former national level swimmer who works with coaches and swimmers and writes at YourSwimLog.com. With no smart phone, no business calls and no emails you can book some quiet time with yourself. “Swimming is forced meditation, in a way. The silence will leave you feeling refreshed,” says Poirier-Leroy.
Swimming spreads out the benefits. When most athletes think active recovery, it’s some light jogging, walking, biking, or hopping onto any assortment of cardio machines at the gym. Instead of just targeting your legs, swimming helps spread the love to your legs as well as your shoulders, back and core, giving you a full body flush.
You’ll get a good stretch in the water. Although swimming can be a tricky sport to get a hang of for newbies, once you develop a mildly efficient stroke you will be rolling and extending your body in ways that you normally don’t outside of dryland. Your lats will get a great stretch from the initial stroke extension. Your upper and lower back will get elongated from stretching out across the water, and swimming backstroke (particularly double arm backstroke) will really help you open up your chest and shoulders. Compare this to a more traditional form of active recovery—sitting on a stationary bike hunched over with bad posture, rolled-in shoulders, and tight hips. Swimming is a great way to loosen up your tight and sore muscles while also flushing metabolic waste. Win-win.
You work hard in the gym and want to see your body bounce back as effectively and as quickly as possible.
The next time you take things to the limit in the weight room or the court consider heading down to the local aquatic center and hitting refresh on body and mind with some laps for active recovery.