the swim down – your best friend

The Swim Down – that last few minutes of the session when the hard work is over, when you can finally relax and start to think about what you are doing after the session. But do you make the most of your swim down? It should be one of the most important parts of your training.

why swim down?
There are numerous physiological reasons to swim down at the end of every session but there are other advantages that can be gained. As you train your body temperature and heart rate rise and the blood vessels in the muscles expand to allow more blood and hence oxygen to them. During training the body releases chemicals into the blood stream, such as adrenaline and endorphins, and there is a build up of waste products in the muscles.

A sudden stop in exercise can cause a rapid drop of heart rate, leading to a fall in blood pressure because of the blood vessels being dilated and the fact that the blood is well distributed around the body. Indeed in these circumstances it can tend to pool in your legs instead of returning to your heart. This can cause dizziness, nausea and a “worn out” feeling. The levels of adrenaline and endorphins remain high and can cause a feeling of restlessness and even a sleepless night. Equally waste products tend to remain in the muscles and can be a factor in muscle soreness and stiffness after training. In any case, it is not good for anyone to have a rapid decrease in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

The swim down therefore serves two purposes:

  • it reduces your pulse at a rate that helps maintain blood pressure
  • it returns the blood to your heart but keeps the circulation at a rate that allows waste products to be effectively removed from the muscles.

how to swim down

It takes your body approximately 3 minutes to realise it does not need to pump additional blood to your muscles. A safe swim down period is therefore at least 3 minutes but preferably longer. As a very rough rule of thumb a swim down should be about 5 to 10% of the total meterage of a session, although in high intensity or lactate tolerance work it can be beneficial to lengthen the recovery phase of the session as the concentration of lactic acid and other by-products of respiration in the muscles will be relatively higher.

While swimming down there are a couple of other points that can be included to improve the quality of your session. If you’ve been swimming a lot of front crawl or fly, swim some backstroke. This works the joint in the other direction and exercises the opposing muscles. Doing this regularly can prevent, and in the early stages reduce the impact of, an injury.

Swim down is also an ideal time to include stroke work. Drills are well suited to less vigorous swimming and including these in your swim down will also ensure that your body and mind are aware of correct technique even when tired – a vital factor in racing.

All swim downs should, of course be followed by stretching of the muscles to avoid soreness and tightness.