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How to Quickly Recover from Swimming                                                           

The faster, more efficiently you can recover whether from a training block or from one workout to the next the stronger your body will be. That’s because during recovery, your body repairs the “damage” you’ve done with those grueling workouts. Recovery is when you finally reap the benefits of all your training. Below are five ways to speed your recovery so you can get the most out of every workout.

Rest vs. Active Recovery

Simply resting, or not working out, is one very good way to give your body a chance to recover. Rest days are crucial not only for physical health, but also for mental health! Not only should you, but your body and mind need you to take days off if you are going to train to your highest potential. But while sitting around may seem like it’s helping, it’s not necessarily the best or fastest way to recover.

Active recovery, such as easy swimming, is another way to help your body heal and rebuild itself. Easy swimming isn’t the only form of active recovery, however. Gentle stretching, low-intensity cross-training and low-intensity weight training are all examples of active recovery.

Always Warm Down

Take the time to swim some easy, quality laps at the end of every single workout. The relaxed, gentle movement of these laps will give your body a chance to process and break down the stress chemicals it produced during the harder parts of your workout. To understand why this is important, let’s look at what happens if you skip your warm-down (not that you would ever do that, of course).

As soon as you stop swimming, your muscles’ demand for oxygen is reduced and your heart rate slows because your heart does not need to circulate your blood as quickly. However, your body not only brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. It also transports the waste products leftover from the metabolic (energy conversion) process to your body’s organs, where they can be broken down and purged from your system. If you skip your chance to get some active recovery at the end of your workout, it can take your body much longer to filter out the waste products and to replenish its energy stores.

Active recovery, then, keeps your blood moving – and transporting nutrients and waste products. The key is to keep your heart rate up, but not work so hard that your body creates more waste products than it can purge. Always swim at least a few warm-down laps.

Eat & Drink after Practice

As soon as possible after your swim, eat a snack. During your workout, your body burned through a lot of fuel, which it stores in a variety of forms. After your workout, there is a small window of time– as few as 15 minutes or up to an hour, depending on the study – during which your body will very efficiently replenish your carbohydrate stores. Once that window closes, your body suddenly becomes very inefficient at replenishing those energy stores.

Hot Tip: Eating Right

For optimal recovery, you will want to eat foods that have about a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Keep your post-workout snack simple, fresh, and well-balanced. As few as 100 calories of one of those foods above can kick-start the recovery process.

If you only swim two or three times a week, your body probably has enough time to re-fill its gas tank completely before the next practice, whether or not you eat immediately after your workout. However, if you swim every day, and especially if/when you swim double-days, eating an appropriate post-workout snack is essential to making sure that your energy stores are replenished in time for the next practice.

Also, it’s particularly easy for swimmers to forget about hydration. Even though you may not notice, you do sweat during practice. Thus, make sure to drink something (non-alcoholic!) after your swims. Again, there’s an optimal window of time after your workout during which your body is more efficient at replacing lost fluids, so the sooner you drink something, the better.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Growth hormones, which are responsible for recovery, do their repair work best when you're asleep. Thus, try to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night. If possible, take a short nap at some point in the day. . When is the right time to nap? Listen to your biorhythms and see what works with your schedule. Just remember, try not to take a nap too late in the day — otherwise it may throw off your sleep schedule when you want to go to bed that night.

 Recovery Swims

If you usually workout late in the day, try to make time for some active recovery in the mornings. If you usually swim in the morning, reserve a small part of your afternoon or evening for a recovery activity. Ideally, that activity would be 20 to 30 minutes of easy swimming, keeping your heart rate in the low aerobic zone. But if going to the pool is a huge hassle, you can do some light stretching, perform a few (relaxing) yoga poses, or take an easy spin on your bike instead. Active recovery is an essential part of a well-rounded training plan.

Indulge in a Massage

Massage benefits your health in a variety of ways. It stimulates your blood flow and movement of lymph fluids, helps prevent injuries, lowers your heart rate, and reduces your blood pressure. Yes, it will help your recovery (there’s a reason many elite athletes get daily massage during peak training and competition blocks), but it will also help your overall health too. Find a sports massage therapist you like, and make a regular appointment, even if it’s only once a month.

Keep Tabs on Your Progress

In your training log, keep track of your recovery activities for a few weeks. Look for connections between what you do for recovery (what you ate, how soon after practice you ate, how much warm-down you needed/did, etc.) and how you feel at subsequent workouts. Don’t be surprised if you have more energy or feel stronger. That’s what recovery is all about.

Mental Skills of Fast Swimmers

At a certain level of swimming, athletes start winning races not just because they are the strongest, have the best technique, or were blessed with the most genetic potential. At a certain point, everyone in the race is so strong and so well-trained that the advantage goes to the swimmers with the most mental fitness. In fact, weaker, less well-trained athletes can often find themselves on the podium because they’ve honed the following ten mental skills.


You must believe you can do something before you do it. Want to swim a best time in a race? First you have to convince yourself that it’s at least possible. But there’s a balance: don’t get so over-confident that you become complacent. It’s a bit like the tale of Goldilocks – you have to find a level of self-confidence that is “just right.”


Set realistic but challenging goals. Top swimmers set not only long-term goals, but also short-term goals that will get them to their ultimate prize. They use both process and outcome goals to propel them along the way. If you’re not sure of the difference between process and outcome goals, check out the article on How to Set Goals.

Detailed Imagery

The world’s best swimmers have mental tapes they’ve created by imagining their races – every little detail of them – exactly the way they want to swim them. These swimmers play their mental tape frequently. They slow down the frames and see their races moment by moment. They can get so into the movie they’ve created, they can practically feel it happening.


The most successful swimmers can maintain focus on the right thing (and decide what the “right thing” is) at any given moment throughout the training and competition process. For example, at practice, are worrying about what your competitor is doing? Or are you paying attention to what YOU are doing? Top swimmers know when to bring their focus inward, and when to pay attention to what’s going on around them. They have figured out when to see the big picture and when to narrow their focus to only one (or a few) thing(s).

Positive Thinking

If you surveyed every Olympic swimming champion throughout history, they likely all had at least one thing in common: they each believed that they could win. Or they were thinking positively about something! There’s always at least one thing to be happy about. Practice finding good on a daily (or hourly!) basis, and you’ll be a pro by the time you need this skill at a big meet.


This is your fuel for the days when you are feeling run-down, distracted, or juggling life’s various commitments. Do you really want to drag your tired self to the pool before sunrise again? Maybe you do need a day off, or maybe you just need to tap into your desire. Remind yourself of your goals, and why you are training.

Energy Management

In order to swim fast, you have to have the energy and excitement to do so! On the days when your energy is flagging, you’ll need to psych yourself up. But too much energy – particularly from anxiety or nerves – can be detrimental to performance. On days when you’re so keyed up you can hardly breathe, you’ll need to know how to relax and bring your energy down into a more optimal range.


Inside everyone’s head there are many voices. Is yours the loudest? What is it saying? The best swimmers in the world use self-talk to support themselves, find or maintain motivation, and turn negativity into positive energy. Become aware of the things you say about and to yourself. And then take control of your thoughts so that they are contributing to successful main sets and personal-best swims at meets.

Stress Management

How well do you perform under pressure? What happens to you mentally when Plans A, B and C fall apart? Goggles break, suits tear, and races are often delayed. The best swimmers have the ability to re-focus, stay positive, and relax even when everything seems to be going “wrong.”

Keeping Perspective

Regardless of whether you had a less-than-ideal workout, lost a big race, or won the world championship, life goes on! Even Olympians are multi-dimensional – they have friends, family, and non-swimming hobbies. (Although, the media would have you believe that they give up practically everything for the sake of swimming.) Enjoy the highs of your swimming career, ride out the lows, and know that no matter what, you are not defined by what you do in the pool. Keep your swimming in perspective.

Practice Your Skills

Train these 10 mental skills of successful swimmers, and you’ll probably not only have better races, but you’ll also get far more joy out of your swimming career.

How to Set Swimming Goals

Goal-setting, when done well, can provide you with a sense of direction and a purpose, a reason to keep returning to the water. Well-written goals, whether long-term, short-term, outcome, or process, can provide you with long-lasting motivation.

There’s more to goal-setting than just identifying your ultimate long-term goal. Smaller process goals will bring a sense of accomplishment to your daily swimming routine, and propel you through a plateau or a slump. And your short-term goals will help you mark progress along the way to your biggest dreams. Here’s how to incorporate goal-setting into your training plan, and how to write goals effectively.

Types of Goals

You can use both process and outcome goals in the short-term to propel you toward your long-term goal. Outcome goals specify the outcome of a race. Examples include: I want to get 1st place. I want to finish in the top 10. I want to go :35.00 or faster in the 50 freestyle. 

Process goals are more about skills and elements (the process!) of racing to an outcome. Process goals sound like this: I want to under-water dolphin kick the full 15 meters on every lap of the 100 backstroke. I want to learn how to swim butterfly legally. I want to maintain my arm speed and stroke rate in the last lap of the race.

While you can always control your process goals, you don’t necessarily have control over everything that has to happen in a race in order for you to achieve a certain outcome. You could do absolutely everything correctly – and achieve every single process goal you’ve written – but still lose a race. If that happens and your only goal was an outcome - to “win” – the only conclusion you’d be able to come to is that the race was a failure! When in fact, by any other measure, you may have been wildly successful.

Here’s how you can set goals that will set you up for success.

Build a Ladder of Goals

Start with the biggest, most important, longest-term goal for your swimming career and put that at the top of your ladder. Maybe this is “losing twenty pounds” or “racing at Masters World Championships.”

Next, consider what you need to do on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis to reach your ultimate goal. In the real world, this is not a linear process. What you may need to do every day is wake up half-an-hour early to do some crunches before work. Maybe you’ll need to limit your weekly beer intake. Perhaps you set a goal of going to the pool for 25 swims or 30 hours of training every month. Perhaps you need to enter four meets a year and set a best time at the qualifying meet. All of these things should be on your ladder of goals.

Well-defined goals are measurable. They are challenging, yet realistic. They have deadlines or are otherwise time-based, and NOT indefinite. Most of all, well-defined goals are things that are in your control. It makes no sense to set out to accomplish something over which you have no control.

Remember to use both process and outcome goals on your ladder. As you set your goals, be realistic about the kind of commitment you can make to swimming today, next week, and in the future, knowing too that a lot can (and will) change along the way.

Eliminate Stumbling Blocks

Think about obstacles, weaknesses, and what you need to train? (Conversely, also ask yourself: what are my strengths?) Once you have identified your weaknesses you can write goals aimed at improving in those areas. In addition to knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you will need to identify obstacles, such as “my friends expect me to go drinking with them four nights a week,” or “I can’t get away from work with enough energy or time to swim.” Eliminating -- or working around -- these obstacles should be part of your goal ladder.

For example, maybe your goal for the first month is to create an environment in which your swimming goals can thrive. You may have to convince your friends (and perhaps yourself) that you’ll still BE friends, even if you only have one drink when you go out with them. Maybe you need to find a way to alter your daily routine to accommodate both the demands of your job and your practice schedule. There’s always a way to eliminate obstacles if you are creative and flexible enough.

Re-Evaluate & Adjust Goals

But there are times when things don’t go according to plan. Children get sick, and then you get sick. You have, for a variety of reasons, been unable to make the weekly sprint workout for nearly two months. Or you are losing weight much more quickly than you thought you would.

All of these are reasons why, once you’ve written out your goals, you will constantly have to re-evaluate them and adjust when necessary. If you haven’t been able to make the sprint workouts recently, it may not make sense to expect yourself to be able to swim a best time in the 50 freestyle at next weekend’s meet. Whenever you’ve fallen off track, take the time to re-set your goals so that they are challenging but realistic. Similarly, if you are way ahead of where you thought you would be, it’s time to write more challenging goals.

Reward Yourself

Create incentives by identifying both rewards for when you meet a goal, and “punishments” for when you fail to meet a goal. What’s the right reward or punishment? That really depends on you, and what you absolutely love or dislike.

Hot Tip: Effective Rewards

Your rewards should be realistic, affordable, and healthy. Sure, many of us relish the idea of spending a week at that 5-star resort in Spain! But there's no point of “rewarding” yourself with things you can’t or won’t follow through on. Be sure to reward yourself in a timely fashion. You worked hard to accomplish your goals, and you deserve whatever it is that you’ve earned!

The more challenging the goal, the more you should relish the idea of the reward. On days when you need a little extra motivation to get to the pool or to work just a little harder at practice, the thought of your reward should provide just that. Getting a new wardrobe when you drop that next pant size? Can’t wait to hang the “finisher” medal for the Alcatraz swim on your office wall? Maybe at the end of the week you’ll have earned a weekend off of swimming. Hopefully, the thought of your next reward, whatever you’ve chosen, is enough to inspire you.

Create Accountability

Okay, so you stayed up really late watching Law & Order re-runs, and that’s why it was impossible (impossible!) to get out of bed this morning for practice. Now it’s Friday, and you only made it to one morning practice this week, meaning it’s now impossible to meet your goal of three morning practices a week. Looks like it’s time to re-write your goals, right? Not so fast! Instead, maybe you just need some accountability.

Some swimmers create their system of rewards and “punishments” to use as incentives. When these swimmers succumb to the lure of late-Thursday-night TV, they call their Friday night social engagement and push the time back so they can make up for the missed workout. Or, they get up early Saturday AND Sunday to make up the lost practice. But they rarely have to do that because they’ve written their rewards and punishments in such a way that they would rather just turn the TV off.

Others of us (that is, the vast majority of the rest of us), need some outside accountability to follow through with our plans. This is where training partners, family
members, coaches, and blog readers can come in handy. Once you’ve written your goals, make them public. Tell your friends, family, and public fans (everyone’s got at least one) what your rewards are, what you will do when you miss your targets, and they will keep you honest and on track.

Get Started

Now that you know how to use goal-setting, get started right away. Tell us your long-term swimming goals, and what short-terms goals you’ll use to get you moving in the right direction!



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