Whether you’re a beginner or advanced swimmer, post swimming fatigue happens to the best of us. Luckily, a few changes to your routine and mindset can make a world of difference. This article will examine post swim fatigue, 8 reasons why swimming makes you tired, and recommendations that will keep your energy levels up.
If You’re New to Swimming (Spoiler Alert)
If you’re a beginner swimmer then I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. If you think swimming is easy compared to say curling dumbbells at your local gym then I’m sad to say (spoiler alert) it is not!
Swimming is a FULL, BODY, WORKOUT. Imagine your gym, cardio machines, and yoga studio all compressed into just one exercise. When you’re swimming laps, you are essentially doing three things at once: strength, stamina and stretching.
- Strength: pulling with arms, kicking with legs
- Stamina: continuous laps, treading water
- Stretching: diving, glides, flip turns
This is the reason why Olympic swimmers are lean, tall and make swimming look so easy: a result of subjecting their bodies to the water twice a day, six days a week for years! So if you’re new to the sport and/or are struggling with swim fatigue, you’re not alone.
Why Swimming Makes You Tired: 8 Reasons
Now that you know what you’re up against, I’m going to give you some tips to overcoming swim fatigue based on my personal experience and swimmer observations over the years. Advanced swimmers pay attention as well, you may be making some of these mistakes listed below.
Reason #1: Your Environment
Fatigue doesn’t just apply to the physical. Mental fatigue can also be equally important to consider as in where and when you swim. Being in a stressful environment ie. training in a crowded pool can be tiring to a swimmer. Imagine driving on a highway for one hour competing with crazy drivers during rush hour versus cruising on an open road all to yourself. Which would you prefer? Which would tire you out more?
I’ve swam in lanes overflowing with 10-12 swimmers of various levels and I’ve also been fortunate enough to sometimes enjoy a lane all to myself for an entire session. I can tell you from experience, I have energy (and sanity) to spare during the latter.
If you want maximum performance during your swim then you need to mentally focus solely on yourself. When you’re swimming in a crowded lane you’re constantly thinking of swimmers around you, not to crash into them or piss them off which equals mental exhaustion.
Solution: avoid peak swim times at your local pool which are usually weekdays from 5am-9am (competitive swim time), 3pm-7pm (kids swimming lessons) and weekends especially public holidays (family swim time). I usually swim during lunch hour or weekdays after 8pm until closing time which is usually 10 or 11pm for most public pools.
Another solution is to swim at a condo pool. Condo pools are usually 24 hours and are often quiet throughout the day with 1-5 swimmers on hand. The only downside is you have to live in a condo in order to swim or find someone who can give you access to one.
Reason #2: Your Gear
Are you wearing proper swim gear? If not, it may be holding you back or worse, slowing you down in the water making you tired easily. Here are a list of items I’ve seen people wear to the pool that you should definitely avoid:
- T-shirt: especially cotton shirts will triple or quadruple in weight when worn in water and create so much drag like wearing a parachute while running. If you’re conscious of your body, invest in a good wetsuit instead which will increase your buoyancy and covering you from neck to ankles keeping you warm in both indoor and outdoor swimming.
- Board or Swim Shorts: great for surfing, bad for lap swimming. Avoid wearing loose clothing and invest in several good pairs of compression shorts aka jammers instead. If you’re swimming 2-3 times a week get several pairs so you can swap them out. Never put them in a washing machine or dryer, always rinse them out with cold water and gently squeeze (not ring) out any excess water and then hang them to dry.
- Bikini: save this item for suntanning not for swimming. Bikinis loosen or come apart all the time especially when you’re lap swimming so invest in one or more well fitted one piece swimsuits instead and look like a pro.
Now here are items that you should be wearing to the pool but often need adjustments:
- Goggles: avoid cheap goggles as they will fog up and break in the shortest amount of time. Try on several pairs of goggles much like trying on glasses and see which ones fit your face the best. Adjust your goggles before your swim. Too tight and they cut off circulation to your eyes. Too loose and water slowly seeps in both lenses or worse, your goggles will fly off your face.
- Swim Caps: avoid mesh material. Mesh is comfortable to wear but just like a t-shirt, it is not made for serious lap swimming. Make sure you wear a swim cap that fits your head properly. For women, silicone works better for long hair as it is more durable and flexible material. For men, or people with short hair I recommend wearing latex swim caps. If you’re swimming 2-3 times a week, invest in 2-5 swim caps and swap them out regularly.
Reason #3: Chlorine Overexposure
Too much chlorine water can be a bad thing not just for your hair and skin but also your overall health which is probably making you tired. Surprisingly, swimming everyday at your local chlorinated pool is not the problem here. The problem for most swimmers is aftercare.
Ask yourself this: do you thoroughly rid your body of chlorine after every session? Using regular soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner to rid your body completely of chlorine won’t cut it. If you swim regularly then you need the right aftercare products. One brand that stands out is Triswim which specializes in aftercare products for swimmers including body wash, lotion and shampoo and conditioner. For more tips on removing chlorine, watch the video below.
Another issue that is not often talked about is accidentally drinking pool water. It happens to every swimmer when our breathing pattern is out of sync. Though embarrassing, incidents such as these should not be taken lightly. Accidentally drinking too much pool water can lead to fatigue to stomach aches or to secondary drowning in which case you should see medical help.
Reason #4: The Water Temperature
If you’re feeling tired it may be due to the pool’s temperature. Swimming in perfect water temperature is like finding a unicorn. To some, the water may be too cold. For others, the water is too warm. If the water’s too cold, you expend more energy. if the water’s too warm, you start to doze off.
This problem manifests when you’re swimming in a pool located outdoors. The air you breathe in on a hot summer’s day is totally different from indoor circulated air. Know that you will never swim in temperature perfection but there are ways around both ends of the spectrum:
- Know that swimming in colder water is always better because warm water will make you tired faster and put you to sleep.
- If you’re swimming outdoors in a warm climate, swim early in the morning or late in the evening in order to avoid the afternoon sun and harmful UV rays.
- Always stay hydrated by carrying a bottle of cold water to drink in between sets at the pool.
- Usually pools that cater to families and kids have their water set at warmer temperatures (eg. wave pools and waterparks) so avoid them at all costs.
- College or university pools cater to competitive swimmers and are set to colder temperatures ideal for lap swimming.
- Use the hot tub or steam sauna in between sets in order to counter the effects of cold water swimming. Avoid dry saunas as they will make you dehydrated fast.
- If the water is too cold for you, invest in a good wetsuit.
Reason #5: Your Diet
If you’re an advanced swimmer or take your swimming seriously, your diet is non-negotiable. If you’re routinely consuming donuts, pop, or any form of junk food between sessions then it’s probably why you’re constantly tired. Here are a list of other culprits that you also avoid consuming:
- Energy drinks: Red Bull, Monster, even Gatorade are all liquid candy in my opinion. Drinks loaded with sugar and not intended for performance. If you want long lasting energy drink coffee, macha green tea or just plain bottled water instead. Adding a spoonful of honey, lemon or brown sugar before swimming is also good for energy.
- Diet or zero calorie pop: Don’t be fooled by their labelling. Diet or zero calorie Coke, Pepsi or any form of soft drink will make you feel sluggish in the water. Follow in Ronaldo’s steps. If you want true zero calorie, drink filtered water. The best long term solution is to invest in a home Brita water filter and place it in your refrigerator.
- Sugary cereal: Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops.. these are all great for diabetes. If you want to perform at your best, avoid sugary cereal in the morning and stick to plain old oatmeal instead. My favourite form is rolled oats mixed with chia seeds, flax seeds, wheat germ, a dash of cinnamon and manuka honey for flavouring.
- Pastries: I don’t eat anything with flour in it. That includes donuts, pies, muffins, bread, cake, cookies, crackers, chips, etc. The only exception to this list is wholewheat bread or pasta (particularly wholewheat spaghetti with ground beef) which is consumed once or twice a month.
- Fast food: McDonalds, Subway, Dominos, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s… you get the idea. I’ll add Starbucks and other coffee franchise to this section as well based on the amount of calories a lot of their drinks contain particularly ending with latte or “ccino”. If you’re a coffee lover like myself, save yourself a lot of money and discipline yourself to make it at home.
- Dairy: I don’t consume any diary (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.) with the exception of butter for cooking. Milk is great for gaining weight but oftentimes makes me feel lethargic and sluggish in the water. Opt for almond or oat milk instead of milk and greek yogurt instead of yogurt if you must.
What To Eat Before Swimming
Now that you know what foods to avoid, here are some pre and post workout meals I recommend and consume regularly:
Preworkout Meal #1: Nothing. A glass of water and swimming on an empty stomach in the morning (or 2-3 hours after your last meal) is best. Great for fasting as well. If you swim later in the day, make sure to not eat anything for at least 2-3 hours beforehand.
Preworkout Meal #2: Coffee, tea or juice especially freshly squeezed orange, carrot or grapefruit juice. Stay away from frozen, concentrated or pre-made juice at your local supermarket shelf and use your own hands.
Preworkout Meal #3: Oatmeal, only if I really need to fill my stomach fast before swimming.
What To Eat After Swimming
These are my go to meals right after an exhausting swim session. Play around and see which works for you.
Postworkout Meal #1: Scrambled eggs (free range eggs preferably) with mixed salad and balsamic vinegar.
Postworkout Meal #2: Protein shake made with whey protein isolate, chocolate oat milk, half a frozen banana and ice mixed together using a Vitamix. If you want to fill your stomach more, feel free to add a spoonful of almond butter to the mix.
Postworkout Meal #3: Chicken Breast or Tuna Salad. If you’re lazy and want a quick fix then buy prewashed salad bags at your local supermarket’s produce section. Mix them with canned tuna or precooked chicken breast together with dijon mustard, mayonnaise, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Adding red onion, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, celery, parsley and avocados is optional but great for adding variety.
Stick to these pre and post workout meals for at least 3 months in order to see results. You’ll notice that you’re consuming less but losing weight, recovering faster and gaining energy in exchange.
Reason #6: Your Swimming Technique
Unoptimized swimming can slow you down and make you tired fast. This one is quite difficult to pinpoint in general because we all have our weak points when it comes to technique. There are however, common mistakes I often see when it comes to front crawl fatigue:
- Kicking too hard
- Kicking too much or fast
- Kicking underwater
- Kicking in the air
- Bent leg kicking
- Pulling too hard
- Body is too tense
- Flexing muscles too much
- Arm is not catching the water efficiently
- Arm is not fully extended
- Arm is out of the water for too long
- Not grabbing enough air
- Not exhaling fully into the water
- Breathing is not consistent
- Breathing on one side only
- Head position is off balance
- Neck is twisting
- Airway is not open entirely
- Swimming too fast a pace for long distance
- Body as a whole is not in sync
- And more…
For more front crawl tips I recommend watching my video below:
Reason #7: You’re Out Of Shape
Swimming alone won’t get you in shape especially if you want to look like an Olympian. If you want to look and swim at your best then you need to fix your diet (as we discussed above) and incorporate dry land training particularly cardio and weight training.
For cardio, playing soccer, basketball or your favourite sport won’t suffice. You need continuous stress placed onto your cardiovascular system and the only fix for this is running. If you hate running, have bad knees or just not good at it then I’m sorry to say that everything else will be second best. Cycling, rowing, walking.. these are all ok but know that competitive swimmers run because it is the closest form of swimming on dry land.
For beginners, I recommend running on a track. Every neighbourhood has a local running track especially at schools so find the one nearest you. The ground is softer, there’s no debris or obstacles such as cars or trees and you can measure precisely how many laps and distance you are running. In the beginning, start by walking and incorporate light jogs in between. Aim for 5 laps around the track (2km) and gradually work your way up to 25 laps (10km) which is what I do regularly.
As for weight training, I’ve written an entire article on the subject which you can read here plus check out my video below for more weight training tips as a swimmer:
Reason #8: You’re Competing Against Others
If you’re an experienced driver then you will understand what I’m about to say. On a highway there will always be people that are faster than you, slower than you and sometimes at the same speed as you. Everytime you share a pool or lane with other swimmers the same principle applies. If you’re constantly thinking of the swimmers around you then I’m sad to say you’re fighting a losing battle. In the end, constantly competing with others will make you tired and exhausted.
Like driving, there are reckless drivers as there are swimmers. It’s better to let the faster car pass you and pass the slower car in a safe manner. Don’t let your ego dictate your pace as you swim or else you will burn out fast. If you’re sharing a lane and can’t swim faster than others, switch to a slower lane. On the opposite hand, if you’re swimming faster than others move to a more appropriate lane.
In a public setting we can’t have a lane all to ourselves in most instances so know whom you’re swimming with and show some etiquette. This is common sense but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen swimmers try to aggressively compete with me or others in the same or opposing lane as if it were a race. Take your ego out of the equation and become a better swimmer (and driver). Swimming is a journey, remember that.
Tired? Keep Going
As swimmers, we all get tired and struggle with progress. Know that you are not alone and that it’s ok to rest but not to quit! Find solace with other swimmers as you journey deeper into swimming and ask for help if ever you get stuck. Good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is swimming so hard or difficult?
Swimming is hard because it works your entire body. A full body workout that no other exercise on dry land does. This is why runners and athletes struggle to complete laps in the pool as it is a totally new sensation. But don’t worry, swimming does get easier the more you improve your technique, your diet and training outside of the pool.
How long or often should I swim without getting tired or burned out?
If you are just starting, I recommend swimming 2-3 times a week spreading out your sessions for example: Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays in order to give your body a break from chlorine exposure. Swim for one hour per session and aim for 3-5 sets of continuous lap swimming.
Which is more tiring: indoor or open water swimming?
Open water swimming is way more tiring as you’re dealing various factors in an uncontrolled environment such as fluctuating temperatures, debris, murky waters, sea life, shifting waves and currents, etc. If you don’t have a lot of experience with open water swimming, you may get muscle cramps and will have to adapt your swimming in order to compensate for poor visibility and lack of ledges to hold onto for breaks.
Will supplements or vitamins give me more energy to swim?
You can but it is not necessary. You can get proper energy by cooking your own food and consuming meals in smaller portions. If you must have supplements or vitamins then I recommend picking whey protein isolate, a multivitamin and omega 3 fish oil.
Is it normal to be constantly tired after every swim session?
If you’re competing yes. If you’re a beginner to experienced swimmer no. If you’re constantly tired it means you need to take a step back and examine all possible factors for your swim fatigue including diet, sleep, technique and especially pace. Don’t push yourself hard all the time and never compete with other swimmers. Focus solely on yourself. Swimming is a journey, not a race.