How to Use Swimming for Active Recovery

Swimming is one of the best all-around physical activities out there. But did you know that it also kicks a metric ton of butt when it comes helping athletes recover between workouts?

When researchers took a group of triathletes and subjected them to a series of high-intensity intervals on a treadmill, they had the triathletes do a 2,000m swim workout a few hours later for active recovery. The results? Those who did the laps ended up performing an average of 14% better when tested again the following day. Not bad for a swimming a few laps!

Here’s what you need to know about using your local chlorinated pool for a recovery workout:

Breathe bilaterally when you are swimming freestyle.

While swimming freestyle make sure to breathe equally to both sides. Swimming, although low impact and performed in a weightless environment, can still create muscle imbalances when we rely too much on our dominant side.

“Breathing to the same side over time will create significant muscle imbalances that lead to swimmer’s shoulder,” says Olivier Poirier-Leroy, national level swimmer and author of YourSwimBook and Conquer the Pool. “Breathing every three strokes is a fantastic habit to get into. You will develop a more balanced stroke, get into more of a rhythm when swimming and you will keep your shoulders healthy.”

Poirier-Leroy suggests breathing every three strokes, but also says that breathing every two strokes, but facing the same side of the pool on the way up and the way down has the same effect. The key is to effectively balance your breathing out and not becoming overly reliant on your dominant side.

Start and finish with kicking on a board to flush your legs.

Kicking on a board might not be in the cards for all of us, especially beginner swimmers who feel like they are staying in place despite kicking their legs torridly up and down. But for those who have a little experience on the board doing some flutter kick will help flush the legs while also loosening up your ankles, knees and hips.

“For lifters and triathletes, in particular, they have real issues with ankle mobility,” says Poirier-Leroy. “Doing some kick helps with flexion and overall ankle flexibility, something we could all use whether we are trying to squat lower or stay injury-free on the trails.”

A Swim Workout for Active Recovery

Here is a sample workout you can do the next time you head down to the pool:

Before you hop into the water make sure to loosen up your arms, shoulders and hips with some arm and leg swings.


300m swim mix.


8×25 alternating freestyle swim and backstroke kick – take :20 rest between 25s

Main set:

12×100 swim as 75 freestyle, 25 backstroke – take :30 rest after each 100.

You should be swimming at a pace that is comfortably uncomfortable. If you can’t hold a conversation between reps you are likely going to hard. “The backstroke will help keep your shoulders from locking up,” says Poirier-Leroy.


8×25 freestyle swim – count your strokes and try to see how many you can repeat at the lowest stroke count. Take as much rest as you need between reps.

The goal with your warm-down is simply to swim with excellent technique and as efficiently as possible. “Counting your strokes is a great habit to get into as you progress in the water,” says Poirier-Leroy. “It will teach you to be more efficient with your arm strokes and gamifies your swimming. You’ll always be wanting to try and beat your best stroke count.”

Heading down to the pool is a great way to mix things up with your training. You will get to give your joints a break from the rough and tumble of your usual dry-land training, and even get to experience a break from the hustle and bustle of social media and your smartphone.

The next time you are feeling beat up after a big workout head down to the local pool and get some laps in and kickstart your recovery process.


How to Use Swimming for Active Recovery
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