Why Cool Down Exercises and Recovery are So Important for Swimmers

Courtesy of P2 Life, a SwimSwam partner. 

Part of an effective and proper swim session, whether it’s an early morning practice or an important meet, is restoring your body. Part of a total performance swimming plan is recovery and the cool down exercises that you do after working out. Let’s focus on a few reasons why this step is critical to maintaining optimal performance.

1. Body Temperature
It’s natural for swimmers to experience an increase in muscle temperature. And while you’re exercising, competing, and working out, this elevation in temperature is a good thing because it allows a more efficient delivery of oxygen to tissues, “quickens the metabolic chemical reactions resulting in more efficient cellular processes”1, and keeps our joints and limbs flexible to easily move through the water.

Also, as body temperatures rise, MPK, a key enzyme that muscles use to generate energy, but is also temperature sensitive, begins to deform and self-destruct. When you cool your muscle cells, you are returning this enzyme to a functional state and resetting your body for the next round of exercise. This is especially important for swimmers who are competing in multiple races in one day.

2. “Clean” Muscles
Cooling down is also an important step in helping muscles clean out the lactate and other waste that has accumulated during rigorous exercise. When you swim at high intensities, metabolites like inorganic phosphate, lactate, ADP, and hydrogen ions build-up in your body and can compromise your next swimming performance. A proper cool down facilitates the removal of lactate after a race or intense swim session.

3. Muscle Repair
The majority of the body’s metabolic repair and rebuilding happens while the body is resting. This is a key time to restore any nutrients lost during exercise, and prepare for the next round of competition. During a long or intense workout, it’s likely that your glycogen stores become low or depleted, and the available blood sugar is giving your body energy. But should your levels drop too low, your body draws on the high-intensity fuel source of protein. And this protein “usually comes in the form of muscle protein, it is easy to see how long-term failure to replenish glycogen can lead to tissue breakdown”2.

To prevent this tissue breakdown and maximize glycogen stores, get proper nutrition during your cool down. Drinking a protein shake that has a proper ratio of carbs, whey protein, casein protein, and vitamins within 30-45 minutes after your workout is appropriate. If you would like to learn more about ways you improve your body’s recovery time after training or a big race, visit P2Life’s website and learn more about Our Nutriboost shake.

4. Prevent Fainting
Immediately after a long set or an intense competition, the blood vessels in our bodies, especially our legs, where swimmers get much of their power, expand and have blood moving freely through them. When you stop swimming abruptly, that blood pools in your lower body, and creates symptoms of fainting, dizziness, cramps, or what some swimmers call “lead legs”. Cooling down with a proper routine has been shown to prevent the buildup of blood in the veins, also known as “venous pooling”.

5. Better Performance
There are lots of opinions about the value of cooling down and recovery, but there are numerous studies that show swimmers having better performance with a proper routine. Studies from the Journal of Swimming Research show that “an active recovery between events (which was essentially a cooldown from the first race), resulted in improved performance versus the passive recovery.”3 Cooling down after each race is going to help you perform better in subsequent races, so make it a necessary step.

For more articles on swimming techniques, nutrition tips, and race day strategies, check out our P2Life Swimmer’s Blog!

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1. http://blog.bridgeathletic.com/the-importance-of-warm-up-and-cool-down-for-athletes
2. http://www.nycaquaticclub.com/The%20Art%20of%20Recovery.pdf
3. http://www.swimmingscience.net/2013/04/arm-warm-downs-necessary-in-swimming.html
4. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/august/cooling-glove-research-082912.html


Courtesy of  P2Life, a SwimSwam ad partner.

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1 year ago

Will a non-swimming cooldown with exercises on the deck be as effective as a water-based cooldown?

Andy Spencer
7 years ago

At what age should swimmers be doing cool downs? And does length of race matter (50 Free vs 800 Free) as to how long you cool down>

Reply to  Andy Spencer
7 years ago

I make 9-10 year olds cool down at least a 100 after their race, regardless of distance. For older kids, it becomes very specific according to the race swum. A 50 actually requires more cool down than a 200 because of the delayed effects. This is not scientific, but for a 50, I tell them to do a 200 cool down. For a 100, do a 200. For a 200, do a 400. For a 400 or 500, between 500-800. For a mile, at least a 1000. I rarely see kids in the pool at the end of an evening finals session, but a good cool down makes a huge difference the next morning.