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Why Recovery Is Important

Competitive swimmers spend hours a day in the pool practicing and preparing for upcoming meets. During strenuous exercise such as resistance training or aerobic threshold intervals, muscle tissue develops micro-tears in response to stress. Besides fueling muscles during exercise, glycogen is also important for recovery, and inadequate glycogen stores can hinder the body's muscle restoration. Staying ahead of your recovery needs means that you get worn down less, are less likely to get injured.

So, what is the best way to recover from a strenuous work out?

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 left over 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.

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Sleep is a key time for the body to undergo protein synthesis so catch some more shut-eye and let your body develop muscle tissue while you’re at it. Get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Research also suggests that taking a quick 10-20-minute nap can leave you feeling more energized and alert than a nap lasting 1-2 hours. Between morning and afternoon practice, find 20 minutes to close your eyes. You’ll be able to find an extra gear during afternoon practice and feel an improvement in your mood as well.

Have a protein-carbohydrate combo ready post-practice to jump start glycogen recovery, especially after your AM workout to boost recovery between sessions. This will require some planning on your part if necessary especially if you are also a high school swimmer. Early morning practice and you may not get home until after your afternoon practice, meaning that meals and snacks have to be planned and packed in advance. Here are just a few ideas for your post practice snacks: Fruits (fresh is best but dried are still okay) energy foods (cereal bars, energy drinks, yogurt (low fat if possible).

Hydratation is also conducive to recovery. Water serves to flush toxins and kick-starts the muscle recovery program your body has in place. On especially intense days of training, combine your water intake with an electrolyte-based beverage such as Gatorade. Remember that you should be staying watered-up during your swim practices as well; even though you might not want to sip on water being in a large pool, swimmers sweat in the water.

Soreness from the aforementioned micro-tears is inevitable. In addition to cooling down, sleep, protein, and fluids, a foam roller and a lacrosse ball can help to work out soreness and knots. Using a foam roller will improve circulation and promote blood flow to targeted areas, which will help to flush out any waste products that are hanging out in your muscles. Those knots limit mobility and can increase the likelihood of overuse injuries, so keep on top of them and keep your shoulders and hips loose. Swimmers should especially be hitting their lats, upper back, use the lacrosse ball to get into your scapulas.

In conclusion always warm down, get adequate sleep, eat a heathy diet, rest, and take a day off to let your body recover.

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