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.
Step 1. 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.
Step 2. 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.
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.
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.
Step 3. 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.
Step 4. 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.
Step 5. 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.
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.