Best Swim Meet Recovery Methods

Learn the best swim meet recovery methods!.

Imagine, you're at your big meet, but you feel sore...what do you do? Or, you have a big meet, with many events and are feeling sluggish, is there anything to do? These are common issues for swimmers, luckily there are methods to reduce soreness or speed up recovery during big meets. I'll never forget leading up to a big swim meet, I'd have difficulty sleeping, lying in bed anticipating my best times.

Unfortunately, this extreme focus likely impaired my performance. No matter if you become anxious or stressed before the big meet, there are methods for improving your performance and speed your recovery.

What is Recovery?

Recovery can be loosely defined as the rate at which the fatigue induced by a prior training bout or competition is dispersed, relative to the size of that fatigue. However, that definition in itself is problematic, because fatigue is also difficult to pin down and measure precisely.

What is Fatigue?

Broadly speaking, researchers have proposed that fatigue is either of central origin (i.e. the central nervous system inhibits effort, perhaps as a safety mechanism to prevent excessive damage to the muscles) or of a peripheral origin (i.e. the performance capability of muscles is compromised, either through chemical changes, or as a result of localized tissue damage, or in some other way).


Meet Preparation

Leading up to a meet, there are some things a swimmer can do to prepare for elite performance.

  • Nutrition – Balanced diet, don’t change anything. Too often swimmers will perform carbohydrate loading, but the research doesn't support this notion. In fact, extra carbohydrate consumption may lead to increased body weight (from reduced training periods during taper), impairing swimming velocity.

  • Sleep – As much as possible. One caveat, having a continue sleep pattern leading to the meet is best, as changing anything causes a period of adaptation. Unfortunately, many swimmers (athletes and the population in general) do not sleep enough. This lack of sleep impairs performance and increases the risk of injury. 

  • Mental Preparation – Visualization and incantation. I've spoken in depth on these two items, so I'll keep it brief. If you want to prepare yourself mentally, you must mentally rehearse your training and provide a positive outlook on your performance. 

    • Visualization: Mental rehearsal of race.

    • Incantation: Repeated positive saying.

  • Muscular – Light stretching and self myofascial releases (SMR). If you are feeling sore, light stretching of ~30 seconds and easy self soft tissue or massage can reduce sensations of soreness. 

  • Electrical Stimulation – Light electrical stimulation can reduce soreness.Pain is mediated by the wide dynamic range cells (WDR). WDR cells interpret pain and sensation. Therefore, if someone is sore or having pain, providing sensation can reduce the amount of pain, theoretically overloading the WDR.

Meet Recovery

At a meet, swimmers can also do activities for speeding recovery for enhancing their subsequent events.

  • Enough Warm-down – Individualized amount, ~1,000 – 2,000 per event. If you are not performing warm-down or following a program which discourages easy swimming, light dynamic activity can also speed recovery, like walking.

  • Within Session Nutrition – Easily digestible, protein and carbohydrate. Electrolyte drinks may be beneficial. Make sure you eat what you are used to, the last thing you want is some intestinal distress at a major meet.

  • Within Meet Nutrition – Normal diet, nothing different! Once again, stick with your nutritional program, changing things at this point isn't beneficial. 

  • Within Session Recovery – Lie down, SMR, light walking.Relax, but stay away from poor bleachers or unhealthy sitting positions which may cause soreness! 

  • Within Meet Recovery – Compression stockings, light stretching, SMR/massage, and cold/contrast baths (10 – 15 minutes). All of these items have been suggested to enhance recovery and perception of soreness. Use these at your own discretion and find which mix of items is best for you!

  • Sleep – As much as possible, naps are individualized, ideally 30 – 60 minutes. However, stick with what you do on a regular basis. Individualize for yourself and find the best fit!

  1. Bishop PA, Jones E, Woods AK.Recovery from training: a brief review: brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 May;22(3):1015-24. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816eb518. Review.