How to Use the Pool to Recover Faster from Workouts

Learn how to use time in the pool to accelerate recovery after tough workouts.

During the summer, the pool is always a popular hangout, but it shouldn't just be a place for cannonballs and belly flops. In fact, a pool can be a valuable training and recovery tool when used the right way. Pool recovery workouts have been popular for years with elite athletes like Victor Cruz. Chip Smith, founder of Chip Smith Performance Systems, has integrated a weekly pool day into his clients' routines for decades.

The reason pool recovery workouts are so popular? It's simple—they work. Performing active recovery in a pool helps to reduce soreness, flushes out lactic acid and prevents a drop-off in performance. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded a "swimming-based recovery session enhanced following day exercise performance."

Part of what makes pool recovery workouts so effective is that they let you put your body through a controlled range of motion without any of the pounding and impact inherent in dry land training.

"Pool recovery training is all about reducing the amount of impact your body endures while taking it through a range of motions," says Brandon McGill, sports performance director at STACK Velocity Sports Performance.

The best part about pool recovery is that the benefits can be gained from a short session of simple movements. Try this quick routine the next time you hit the pool to boost your recovery and enhance your performance. Then you can get back to your cannonballs.

The 9-Lap Pool Recovery Routine

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when performing a pool recovery routine. One, you need access to an area of the pool where the water is at least as high as your navel, and two, focus on range of motion over speed or intensity.

"Recovery is all about range of motion. If you're focused on going as fast and as hard as you can, you'll tire yourself out. Slow down, be deliberate and focus on a big range of motion," McGill says.

With that in mind, the movements in this routine should be performed at roughly 65- to 80-percent intensity.

The following routine is designed for a short course swimming pool with a length of about 25 yards.

Using the side of the pool for support, begin by performing:

After the Leg Swings, move to the movement portion of the routine. This simple routine consists of nine laps using various movements.

  • Forward Jog down, Backpedal back
  • Forward Jog down, Backpedal back
  • High Knees down, Carioca back
  • Butt Kicks down, Forward Skips back
  • High Knees down, Carioca back (facing other direction)
  • Freestyle swim down, Shuffle back
  • Freestyle swim down, Shuffle back (facing opposite way)
  • Breast stroke down, Lateral Skip back
  • Breast stroke down, Lateral Skip back

It's that simple. This short routine can stimulate recovery and leave you feeling better than you did before.

If you'd like to extend your routine or further customize it to your needs, here are some other great pool exercises:

  • Squat Jumps
  • Knee Tuck Jumps
  • Power Skips
  • Swimming with a kick board
  • Jumping Jacks

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Fun and Games

Hopping in the pool help you physically and mentally recharge your batteries during a period of heavy training. Playing a game such as pool basketball, pool volleyball, tag or water polo allows you to have fun and blow off steam while stimulating recovery. Such games put you through a wide variety of movements and motions, which accelerate recovery and help flush out lactic acid while keeping impact to a minimum.

"I've found the loosely structured workouts geared towards both mental and physical regeneration work out the best," McGill says.

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Having fun while you recover? Sure sounds better than an ice bath.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock