Swimming is The Ultimate Recovery Exercise

Swimming is the ultimate recovery exercise.  The buoyancy of the water lessens any impact on sore or injured joints and muscles.  Yet, there is an increased resistance as you move your muscles through the water so that you gain back your strength.  Swimming is a great full-body workout that can keep you moving even if you are recovering from cancer, another illness, or an injury.  Let’s look at why and how you should learn to swim to heal yourself.

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Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is a low impact sport with many health benefits.  Here are just some of the many benefits swimmers enjoy:

  • A great cardiovascular workout
  • Builds endurance
  • Tones and strengthens muscles
  • Good for mental health
  • A peaceful kind of exercise
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves posture and balance
  • May reduce pain
  • Burns calories
  • Great for injury recovery

So, as you can see, swimming is the ultimate recovery exercise and is a great way to stay in shape. It can fit nicely into any healthy living plan, especially for those recovering from cancer.

Swimming and Cancer Survivorship

Many studies tell us that moving more can help prevent cancer recurrence.  And to develop a sustainable habit of being more active, you need to enjoy your workouts.  Swimming may be that for you.  Swimming checks all the boxes for the guidelines on exercise and cancer survivorship, so is a good sport for cancer survivors to learn.

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If you have open skin areas such as surgical incisions, chemotherapy ports, or radiation burns, you may need to wait until they are completely healed before going into the water.  Be sure to ask your cancer care team if swimming is a good choice for you right now. 

Your Guide to Swimming from an Award-Winning Triathlete

While I do enjoy going for a swim, and I have helped myself recover from running injuries with pool workouts, I am no expert in the finer details of swimming.  So, I asked award-winning triathlete and master swim instructor Norine Oda Howardson to tell you more about swimming.  Let’s read what Norine has to say…

Why Runners Should Swim

You are a runner, you are strong, you are invincible until you are not. You can deny you have an injury until you can’t. Any number of orthopedic injuries can slow you down. So, what should you do to keep your cardio capability up while your body is letting you down?

As a swimmer turned runner turned triathlete, I don’t see swimming as an alternative to running only when I’m injured. I use swimming as a supplement to my running. I know many runners and runners turned triathletes who begrudgingly enter the wonderful world of aquatics. Many triathletes see swimming as a means to an end. (Personally, as a triathlete I feel that way about cycling …lol)

Reasons to Love Swimming

There are many reasons to love swimming…it’s easy on your joints, you get the additional resistance working against the water pressure, it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter, you don’t have to carry on a conversation and it’s a great solo sport. I understand there are reasons you wouldn’t like swimming, you have to get wet, your hair will get wet, you think the water is cold in any season, and, perhaps, you have thoughts of drowning!

Swimming is a very TECHNICAL sport. If you jump in the water and start thrashing around guaranteed you’ll hate it. Please don’t tell me “I can’t swim because I’m a sinker” … Look at Michael Phelps, the guy is a total mesomorph … he would totally drop like a stone to the bottom of the pool; but he has mastered swimming techniques to become the G.O.A.T.

Learning to Swim

I’m not going to try to teach you how to swim by reading this article. Sorry, you need to hit the water if you really want to swim. But if you really want to swim, here is a starting point.

The Ideal Swim Gear and Equipment

You need a swimsuit. The best swimsuit for swimming for women is a one piece training or racing suit. To the layman this is something like a speedo.

You want a suit that fits well and keeps all body parts covered. So, unless you get and are comfortable in a training two piece, save the sun tanning bikini for your next tropical vacation.

For men, swimming in your boxer type bathing suit will add resistance and be billowing all over. You can find training trunks or jammers, which are like bike shorts. Or, as I’ve noticed, the dreaded speedo briefs have made a comeback.

Having been a lifeguard for years, trust me, no one is looking at you, they’re all concerned about themselves.

Other important gear you might want to pick up include goggles and a swim cap.

In pandemic times you’ll need to have your own kickboard and pull buoy as pools aren’t offering them up for the public to use.

You may see other swimmers with swim fins, hand paddles. snorkels, and or long stretch cords. Once you’ve mastered front crawl, you can consider all the swim toys your heart desires.



Sign Up for Swim Lessons

Consider signing up for lessons from a professional. You’ll start to learn from the basics, such as blowing bubbles (breath control), floating, gliding, body position, kicking, arm pull and recovery, coordination to diving, flip turns and workouts.

If you are a runner, you should have some kind of kinesthetic awareness and along with your increased aerobic endurance, you may pick up swimming quickly.

For those who have swam before, even a stroke correction class could help you refine your strokes and make swimming feel easier and more enjoyable. The instructor can help correct any bad habits you may have picked up.

Always Swim with a Buddy

It is advised that you always swim with a buddy.  That means pairing up with a friend.  You could also swim where there are lifeguards present.  But keep in mind that if the pool or beach is busy, a lifeguard may not spot you immediately.  It is still a good idea, and more fun, to go swimming with a friend.  

If you’re swimming in open water (with a buddy) have a brightly colored float behind you. It can be a commercial open water swim float or a sealed plastic jug on a rope that you loop over your shoulder. This float will help boaters see you in the water.  It can also be used as a floating aid should you get tired and need a resting spot.

Ideal Locations for a Swim

Of course, you can swim in a pool.  But if you decide to go out into open water, such as a lake or the ocean, there may be currents to be aware of.

Swim along the shore in a comfortable depth for you. Don’t swim straight out because you may be too tired to swim back to shore.



I could go on and on about swimming. It really is an amazing activity, and water really is the fountain of youth. I still take my almost 95 year old mom swimming to an outdoor pool every summer. It’s her happy place too! And she can still swim lengths too.

A Simple Swim Workout to Try

Here’s a really simple swimming workout to try next time you are in the water.

Swim Warm up:

  • 100 m front crawl
  • 100 m choice (front crawl, breaststroke, back stroke)

Swimming Kicks:

  • 4 x 50 m front flutter kick 30 seconds rest between the 50s

Swim Set:

  • 50 m front crawl 15 sec rest
  • 100 m front crawl 15 sec rest
  • 200 m front crawl 15 sec rest
  • 100 m front crawl 15 sec rest
  • 50 m front crawl 15 sec rest

Swim Cool down:

  • 100 m choice (easy)

Total Swim: 1000 m

Norine and I hope you give swimming a try.  Perhaps it will be the sport you enjoy doing again and again.  Truly, swimming is the ultimate recovery exercise, whether you are recovering from cancer, running injury or just want a great way to improve your fitness.

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3 Comments

  1. I love this! Running has been a huge part of my life, but I have always had a love of swimming too. What a great way to have the benefits of both!

  2. I love swimming and it truly is the best exercise. I am an ex competitive swimmer and when I swam I was in the best shape of my life!

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