Should I Swim On A Rest Day? (The Pros & Cons)

I love swimming and exercise, and the thought of being in the pool seven days a week fills me with excitement. However, I wonder if I should really swim on my rest days?

Swimming on a rest day is widely accepted as a great way to recover from strenuous exercise. As swimming is a low-impact activity, swimming on a rest day can flush out lactic acid build-up and promote muscle fibre recovery, resulting in a faster recovery time than those who are inactive.

Growing up, I was always told to take rest days. On the face of it, this seems like solid advice, however, new research suggests that those who use their rest day to do a low-intensity activity such as swimming recover faster than those who are inactive. [source]

In this article, I will cover:

  • Is it OK to swim on rest days?
  • Should you swim every day or every other day?
  • Will I be exhausted if I swim on a rest day?
  • The Pros & Cons Of Swimming On A Rest Day

Is It OK To Swim On Rest Days?

It has become widely accepted by the health and fitness industry that a low-intensity swim on your rest day is a good thing.

Whether you spend the rest of your high-intensity week in the gym, the pool or on the sports field, it is accepted that a gentle and low-intensity swim on your rest day will help promote muscle recovery and result in increased performance when you next hit the gym.

Many studies by the International Journal of Sports Medicine have provided evidence that low-intensity exercise completed on a rest day will result in a faster recovery rate than those who are inactive. [source]

For example, a study called “Effects of a Recovery Swim on Subsequent Running Performance”, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that a swimming-based recovery session enhanced following day exercise performance. [source]

According to this specific study, they accredited the improved performance to the hydrostatic properties of water and its ability to reduce inflammation.

Hydrostatic pressure from the water helps with blood flow, resulting in a heart rate that is 10 to 15 beats lower per minute than on land. [source]

Whichever study you look at, there is evidence to suggest that it is OK to swim on your rest days, as long as it is a low-intensity swim.

Should You Swim Every Day Or Every Other Day?

It is possible to swim every day, but it will be necessary to alter your swim routine to include a gentle, low-intensity swim day.

We are not machines, and our muscles need time to recover.

Active recovery is defined as exercise at a low intensity and it has been shown that this is good for us. [source]

By keeping active, even on our rest days, we flush out lactic acid from our muscles from the previous day’s high-intensity workout.

To find evidence of this, just look at Tour De France cyclists who do low-intensity rides or activities such as swimming on their rest day in order to recover faster than their competitors and perform better when they are next in the saddle.

If you are going to swim every day, you will need a swim routine that factors in active recovery, i.e. low-intensity swim days.

Here is an example of a swim workout. You may need to adjust this for your own fitness level, but ensure you include low intensity “rest day” swims.

  • Monday: Long Endurance Swim
  • Tuesday: Steady Relaxed Pace Swim
  • Wednesday: Steady Pace Swim
  • Thursday: Speed Swim – High Intensity
  • Friday: Steady Relaxed Pace Swim
  • Saturday: Speed Swim – High Intensity
  • Sunday: Rest Day – Low Intensity Recovery Swim

To learn more about swimming every day and how to cope, I have covered this topic in greater detail in this article:

Will I Be Exhausted If I Swim On A Rest Day?

Burnout is a real thing and if we overdo it, we will run our energy supplies low.

As long as your rest day swim is gentle, relaxing and of low intensity, in theory, you should have more energy.

The secret to active recovery is low intensity.

I know it is tempting when you are in the pool and you feel good to put your head down and give it all you got, but on a rest day you need to fight the urge to “workout”.

If you swim seven days a week at a high pace where you are breathless and tired after a swim, this is a bad thing and you are on the road to injury and burnout.

Take a day to relax in the water, and look forward to your next workout day, as your performance will be enhanced because of the break.

The Pros & Cons Of Swimming On A Rest Day

According to sports science research, there seem to be a lot more pros than cons when it comes to swimming on a rest day.

Below I have compiled all the pros and cons from my research:

Pros Of Swimming On A Rest DayCons Of Swimming On A Rest Day
Promotes active recoveryRisk of burnout if the rest day swim is not low intensity
Improved blood flowSkin can become dry due to daily chlorine. (Use a chlorine removal body wash)
Improved metabolismHair can become dry and dull due to daily chlorine. (Use chlorine removal shampoo)
Improved moodIncreased risk of injury due to RSI (Repetitive strain injury – ensure you vary your strokes)
Improved muscle recoveryTime-consuming
Faster recovery

Final Thoughts

If you love your sport and exercise, you will want to do it every day, but to keep up a strong pace, you need to include active recovery into your workout routine.

Using your rest day to take a low-intensity swim is a great way to recover faster and to take care of your body.

If you are interested in recovery and how to incorporate rest days into your workout routine, whatever exercise that is, from swimming to running to weight lifting, I recommended checking out the book, Athletes Guide to Recovery: Rest, Relax, and Restore for Peak Performance (The Athlete’s Guide)

This book will help you manage your time and rest days to recover faster and reach peak performance. This book is a real eye-opener!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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