The Swimming Warm-Down: Why It Matters and How Much You Should Be Doing

Michael Butler
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Why You Should Take Your Swimming Warm-Down Seriously

If you want to become a really proficient swimmer, you have to take every step needed.

A structural warm-down can do wonders for your body and your swimming technique. Since your body will warm up first after a long swim, it’s a good idea to let it relax, as opposed to letting it cool down. If you let your body cool down, you’re going to feel stiff and achy the next day.

But not everyone knows that muscle soreness is mostly about flexibility and range of motion. The longer your arms and legs have been, the more likely you’ll be feeling kind of stiff and a little bit sore. A focus on range of motion during a warm-down can help alleviate any stiff and achy feelings for the next day.

A proper warm-down can also help you work on your technique. Since you’ve been swimming straight for a while, you’ll want to make some smooth transitions when you get out of the water. Applying these transitions in the warm-down will help you get it under your belt.

How much do I need to warm-down?

Swimming requires greater muscle activity than any other form of cardiovascular exercise.

As such, you need to warm-down to prevent muscle stiffness. So do not skip the warm-down. In fact, a warm-down helps to restore the function of your joints, improve muscle flexibility, ease muscle tension, reduce the risk of injury, and improve the normalization of your heart rate.

The most common post-swim routine is to take a shower and proceed to the poolside to cool down. This is often necessary in cold weather. You can also add in some light stretches to finish off your routine.

Alternatively, you can do the warm down in water by mixing a few extra laps with some light stretches. This way, you save time by not having to shower.

Your nervous system needs recovery.

Even though swimmers often work at anaerobic exercise levels, their sport is not so extreme that it causes the body to focus on recovery between swims. Although extreme exercise results in rapid recovery, such as the walk-off-the-park recovery experience after a game, the brains of swimmers quickly fall into a recovery period after a day of swimming.

That’s why the warm-down period after swimming is so important. Most workouts end shortly after a swimmer touches the wall in a time trial. It’s true that, on a short course, the swimmer can get in and out of the pool faster. But that’s not the entire story.

Although it’s true that you can reduce the time it takes to get out of the pool by avoiding stops and waiting for a lane to become available, that’s not the best way to end a swim workout.

Most swim coaches agree that it’s better to wait to swim in a lane that has fewer people waiting to swim laps. Plus, when swimmers wait for the pool deck to clear, they spend less time in the water trying to cool down.

Either way, swimmers end up making quick changes, but many don’t bother to warm down.

How fast or slow should I be warming-down?

If you followed our complete set of guidelines, you should finish your workout on a 1-2 mile warm-down.

Swimming is a strenuous activity and even with the most intense workouts, you want to leave your body enough time to adapt. As soon as you finish, your blood vessels relax, allowing the blood to return to the center of your circulatory system … and away from the muscles, where it’s needed most.

If you follow these rules, you should be ready to perform at your peak when it’s time for your next swim workout.

Having a cool down is not only good for your general readiness for your next workout, but it’s also good for your recovery and for the prevention of muscle soreness and other negative effects of strenuous exercise.

Research has shown that circulation time in the brain and heart increases when you’re stretching. For your brain, it’s important that there’s a balance between the cerebral perfusion pressure (blood pressure in the brain) and the intracranial pressure (the pressure of the fluid in your head). For the heart, it’s a matter of preventing oxidative stress and keeping healthy blood flow.

What if there is no warm-down pool?

As swimming is a total body activity, you definitely should have a warm-down pool to avoid muscle soreness and stiffness. If you have no such access, just hoping to sort it out once you get out of the pool, doesn’t work. Sorted muscles will not recover so easily, and you risk aggravating them even more.

The best way to avoid post exercise injuries is to do a controlled cool down and a exercises to loosen up and alleviate stress. The purpose of the cool down is to help you release lactic acid that has built up in your muscles during your workout.

As the lactic acid is cleared from your muscles and you relax, your heart rate lowers back to normal. So a good idea is to do a light trot and then turn around and swim back to your starting point. Do several rounds of this to calm your body.

Flexibility is also an important component of your warm-down. And while it may be tempting to do a vigorous stretching routine immediately after exercise…don’t. Stretching must not be done while you are still warm because it can cause injuries. So wait for your body to cool down before adding stretching to your after-swim routine.

Make warming down a standard part of your post-race routine.

Immediately after any intense workout or race, it’s important to do a quick cool down. The main reason for this is to prevent your heart rate from rising too high or too quickly in a sudden spike immediately after you finish your workout.

When you’re dealing with a rise in heart rate, even a small increase can cause long term changes in the heart’s ability to respond to a rise in heart rate. It’s for this reason that it’s important to decrease your heart rate over a period of about 10 minutes. This allows your body to return to its resting state gradually, helping to prevent any long term health risks.

Water itself has so many extraordinary qualities, and one of those qualities is that it helps reduce the risk of injury. It’s soft and malleable and puts your body into a position you’re most likely to be in when you’re sleeping or relaxing. Add to that the fact that it’s an excellent temperature control tool, and you have an ideal environment for your body to recover after a workout.

Last but not least, pool water is a weightless medium, so it allows you to loosen up the limbs and joints in a weightless environment. That’s why the swimming warm-down is so much more effective than a standard warm-down.

For all of these reasons, the warm-down is the perfect way to close your workout. It doesn’t mean that you can’t exit the pool without a cool-down, and you should probably do so if you are feeling fatigued or in pain.