swimmers in lanesIn the old days it was simple.

You raced. You did your best.

You spoke with the coach about your race, you swapped ideas about dives and turns, you listened to feedback, discussed splits and stroke technique etc etc.

You drank a little water or sports drink.

You jumped (or maybe slumped) into the swim down pool, did a few laps at a speed your grandma would consider too slow and climbed out three minutes later ready to go for your next race (or so you thought).

That, as they say was then and this is now – and now, more than ever, swim down is a critical element of every swimming competition.

Why swim down?

We’ve all heard the coach talk about “clearing lactic acid” and “reducing your heart rate” and “recovery”.  We all know it is supposed to be a good thing for swimmers to do between races but in recent years what we thought we knew about swim down has changed considerably.

What we used to think we knew about swim down:

  • Swim down really slowly;
  • Swim down really slowly for a short distance;
  • Swim down really slowly for a short distance continuously (e.g. 800 freestyle without stopping);
  • Swim down really slowly for a short distance continuously and swim only freestyle or backstroke;
  • Swim down helps your body to recover from the physiological effects of fast racing.

What we think we know now about swim down:

  • Include some laps in your swim down at a much higher speed than we previously imagined, e.g. around 80%-85% of maximum (approximately lactate threshold speed);
  • Swim down for as long as you need to experience the “Goldilocks Effect”;
  • Swim down using intervals of varying distances, e.g. 25s, 50s, 100s, 200s;
  • Ensure your swim down includes some of the same stroke as your most recent race, i.e. if you just raced 100 breaststroke or 200 fly, include some breaststroke or fly in your swim down;
  • “Mental swim-down” is just as important as physical swim down.

For example:

OLD Swim down thinking: 800 metres swim down.

Jump in, swim a relaxed, slow 800 freestyle nice and easy and jump out.

NEW Swim down thinking: 800 metres swim down.

  • Take your heart rate after your race and before jumping into the swim down pool;
  • Swim a steady but relaxed 300 freestyle around 60-70% of maximum speed. Take your heart rate at the end of the 300. Focus on controlling your breathing and swim with a technically good stroke technique;
  • 6 x 50 metres on 1:30 negative split, the first 30 metres at 60-70% maximum speed and the final 20 metres at 80- 85% of maximum speed and with good technique. Every second repeat should be swum in the stroke you swam in your most recent race. For example, if your most recent race was 100 fly, then your swim down 50s could be: 50 free / 50 fly / 50 back / 50 fly / 50 free / 50 fly. Take your heart rate at the end of each 50;
  • 200 metres easy swim with good technique and controlled breathing. Take your heart rate at the end of the 200 metres and again one minute, three minutes and five minutes after the 200.
  • Jump out, stretch, refuel, rehydrate and relax.

Repair – Compare – Prepare:

An easy way to remember why an effective warm down is so important is to think about Repair, Compare, Prepare:

  • Repair – your mind and body from the hard work it has just completed;
  • Compare – in discussions with your coach consider how your actual race went compared to your actual race plan and preparation;
  • Prepare – yourself for your next race.

Swim down, like every other aspect of your training and racing is about you as an individual swimmer.  It is important to practice swim downs in training and learn what it takes for you to feel refreshed and recovered after swimming fast.

Don’t fall for the trap of getting out of the swim down pool just because a team mate has finished their swim down. Your own swim down is important: stay in the water and get it right and you will appreciate that little extra time and effort when you have to race again.

How do you know when you have swum down enough?

Remember that great Swimming Coach “Goldilocks”?

Well before she went off eating porridge with the three bears, she left us with the perfect way to understand the importance of doing the right amount of swim down.

  • “This swim down is too hard”:  Do too much swim down and you risk dehydration, fatigue and reducing energy stores and you will not swim well in your next event;
  • “This swim down is too easy”: Not enough swim down and your cardio-vascular, neuro-muscular and hormonal systems will still be stressed after racing and you will not swim well in your next event;
  • “But this swim down is just right”: Do just the right amount of swim down and you will feel fit, fast, fresh and fabulous for your next event.

Swimming down for your head!

Racing takes a lot of mental energy too so be smart and swim down your “head” as well.

A really great, simple and effective technique for mental swim-down is the “mental-minute”.

Sit or lay down face up somewhere quiet and make yourself still. If the pool area is noisy, gently place a towel over your eyes and ears to give yourself some quiet, personal space.

Take a deep breath and while you do it count to four, i.e. inhale for a full four seconds count. Hold your breath for two seconds, then breath out (exhale) for four seconds. On every “exhale” quietly think the word “re-lax”. Remain still for two seconds, and then breathe in again for a count of four. Do this 5 times.

Slowing your breathing down to just five breaths a minute helps your mind and body to relax, helps you to feel calm and composed and in control and can be a real edge in your racing program.

Give the “mental minute” a try!


Try to remember it this way.

When it comes to the perfect swim down think SWIMMING:

  • Same stroke you raced;
  • Warm down progressively;
  • Interval format – 50s, 100s, 200s;
  • Monitor recovery using heart rate and “feel”;
  • Mental swim down is just as important as physical swim down. Control your breathing and do some “mental massage” while your body is recovering by incorporating the “mental minute” in your post-race routine;
  • Intensity – don’t be afraid to work a little in swim down;
  • Nutrition and hydration are also critical to help post-race recovery;
  • Get out of the swim down pool at the end of your swim down feeling “just right”: refreshed, recovered, re-focused and ready to race your next race – the Goldilocks Effect!

So Swim up in your Swim down!

Don’t forget to check out our Swim Shop.

Wayne Goldsmith