Water Revival: How to Swim Your Way To Recovery

Be a Safer Swimmer - 360swim SaferSwimmer

Mar 12, 2012

Water Revival: How to Swim Your Way To Recovery

We tend to view swimming as another way to exercise, so we often forget that water and swimming have also health benefits outside of the regular workout routines. Sarah, a certified yoga instructor, is here to tell us about how the water can revive your body and how to swim your way to recover from an injury.
Recover from injury in water

Enter Sarah:
I have been an avid exerciser since the age of 16. I have been able to stay healthy and fit because of my active lifestyle. So you can imagine my dismay when I was told I had a tear in my ACL. When my doctor told me that I needed to take an 8-10 week break from yoga, hiking, biking and dancing I thought I would die. Exercise is my hobby, my spiritual connection, my anti-depressant and my anti-anxiety defense. Trust me when I tell you that you don't want to hang out with me on a day that I don't get my 2 hours of exercise in. Quitting was not an option so I learned to glean the benefits of swimming. Like yoga, swimming is a full body experience. It improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens your muscles, promotes flexibility, and improves your posture. Fear not injured friends; the couch is not your only option while recovering.

A lot of the damage done to my knee was due to the excessive high impact exercises I did every day. So walking, running and dancing above water are not an option during the recovery process. A sudden twist or turn can shoot insurmountable pain up your leg. But avoiding all movement weakens the muscles that surround the joints. Water is almost 800x denser than air so it protects the knee from quick movements that could further damage the knee, no other exercise gives you this protection.

In my recovery treatment I have notice my physical therapist gradually increasing the weight and reps in the exercises I do. When recovering from your injury it's important that you are moving at a steady pace so that you can work toward strengthening the support of the joint while avoiding re-injury to the vulnerable area. Swim exercises function to stabilize the knee and build strength around it. You start easy and work your way up.

The exercises I've mentioned below pertain to knee rehab, although many of them would work for other lower body injuries, such as ankle or hip. But no matter what's going on in your body, remember that you should run whatever program you decide to do past your physical therapist. You are seeing a PT, right?

Seated Exercise: If this is a new injury you're going to want to take it easy at first. The best place for you is on the steps of the pool, where you can be sure you are secure and you can perform very controlled, focused movements. Leg lifts are great from this position. Sitting at the edge of the step lift the leg straight up until it is fully extended. Moving from a seated position to a standing position is also perfect for the steps. Separate your feet hip distance apart and slowly oscillate from seated position to standing position. Do each of these exercises 10x on each leg and then gradually increasing until you reach 20 or 30 without pain.

Marching: Once you have mastered your seated poses you are ready to move to standing. Marching is your next step. Move away from the stairs to where you're shoulder deep. Lift each knee one at a time to hip level. Repeating 10x on each knee and gradually increase until you reach 20 or 30 reps without pain.

Running: Once you have mastered your stationary marching you are ready to move around the pool. A great way to strengthen the knee is to run in water. You must make a deliberate effort to move against the resistance of water in order to gain the benefits of it. This allows you to work harder than running above water but keeps your joints safe from harm. You might want to invest in an aquajogger - floating devices for your waist, arms and feet that can simulate the above water experience of jogging in a low-impact way. With the aquajogger you can make your way around the pool like your running laps. You will find that you wear out much quicker than on land.

To give you even more incentive to get into swimming, the University of Western Australia conducted a study on nine well-trained triathletes (as published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine). Participants were asked to perform an interval running task at 90 % capacity. Half the subjects were told to lie down and rest after the run, while the other half were given instructions to swim. They found that those who swam immediately after had better recovery than those who had rested. They were able to run for almost 14 minutes as opposed to those that rested who could only run 12 minutes. These findings suggest that swimming for recovery enhances performance. Water is ~800 times more dense than air. So you are actually getting a better workout than a run or bike ride. It is a form of resistance exercise which is known as the best way to increase muscle strength and mass. The great thing about swimming is that you are using the whole body to accomplish the task of making your way across the pool or ocean.
Swimming will speed up your recovery

You are going to need to keep your cardio up if you want to stay in shape while recovering from your injury and swimming is high on the list of exercises to help burn calories. Every time you swim for at least 10 minutes you burn a nice amount of calories: the breast stroke will burn 60 calories; the backstroke burns 80 calories; the freestyle burns up to 100 calories; and the butterfly stroke burns a whopping 150 calories. A great way to increase the amount of calories you burn is to swim in ever increasing intervals with breaks in between.

Studies show that mood directly affects your health and ability to recover. When you are sedentary during your recovery process you are more susceptible to depression which can lead to a number of problems that will only slow your recovery process:
  • Weakened immune system
  • Compromise brain functioning
  • Lack of appetite needed to nourish the body
  • Serotonin production decreases which is necessary for mood, blood flow and cardiovascular health
  • An increase in Cortisol making it difficult for bones to absorb calcium

Of course, there are a host of other benefits to swimming. Like other exercises, it offers a nice steady release of endorphins, the feel good chemicals that give us a sense of joy when released into our blood stream. Just like yoga, swimming is both relaxing because of all the stretching of the muscles and meditative form of exercise because it's aspect of repetitive movements and breath.

William Wilson wrote "The experienced swimmer, when in the water, may be classed among the happiest of mortals in the happiest of moods, and in the most complete enjoyment of the happiest of exercise." Swimming gives the athlete the ability to exercise regardless of injury or weight. It is the only form of exercise that doesn't create intense impact on your internal body because you are only holding up 10 percent of your weight. So if you are looking for an alternative to sitting on the couch during your recovery process, swimming is for you. Put on that swimsuit and hit the pool.

This guest post is contributed by Sarah Stevenson, a.k.a., The Tini Yogini, who is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Southern California. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology and teaches not only yoga classes but also life affirming workshops. She also writes for Beachbody, which provides effective and popular workout videos, including the Insanity Workout, a high intensity interval training program for total body conditioning.

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.


Swimming Pools said...

Swimming is a great way to get exercise since it is very low impact for the whole body.