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Why Do Swimmers Get Leg Pain After A Swim? Quick Tips For Recovering Faster After A Swim

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, and it's a fun leisure activity you can engage in all year round. However, like any other form of workout, you may experience a few frustrating episodes of leg pain and cramps after swimming.

There are a number of factors that can be attributed to getting leg pain and cramps after you've finished swimming. From lower legs that are not adequately conditioned, to being dehydrated, there are multiple causes for those dull aches in your leg muscles and the cramping that takes place just after a couple of laps in the pool.

If you find yourself constantly wondering 'why do my legs ache after swimming', you've come to the right place as we shall explore some of the leading causes of leg pain post swimming together with what you can do to overcome it.

Why do swimmers get muscle pain?

  • Lack of conditioning

One of the main causes of leg pain is the lack of conditioning. If you haven't been exercising for a while, your muscles don't have the endurance they need to keep going for an extended period of time. Hence, the first few times you swim, you'll probably experience some soreness or fatigue in your legs toward the end of the workout. That's normal, as long as it isn't severe enough that you can't swim anymore.

  • Muscle fatigue due to overuse

    Swimming is a great full-body exercise and a fantastic cardio workout. However, swimming can cause some serious muscle aches and pains in the legs due to overuse and fatigue because of its repetitive nature.

    Swimmers have a higher risk of developing a condition known as exercise-associated muscle cramps, or EAMC[1] due to constant overuse. Strengthening your muscles and learning when to give them a break is vital in order to prevent overuse injuries.

    • Dehydration

    Dehydration may cause you to experience leg cramps while swimming because you have not replaced the fluids lost from your body due to sweating during the workout. Dehydration also reduces the amount of oxygen that is able to get around the body, which can cause your muscles to experience fatigue more quickly.

    • Leg muscle tension during swimming

    Constantly trying to point your toes during kicking may create tension in your calf muscles and lower legs. Persistent tension can lead to cramping and calf pain after swimming.[2]

    The good news is that you have the power to prevent these issues from happening or keep them from getting worse. Incorporate some of the following measures to alleviate muscle fatigue and avoid getting those achy legs after swimming.

    How to recover fast after a swim?

    • Stay hydrated - Drink plenty of liquids in order to prevent dehydration. Replacing fluids lost during exercise with fluids containing electrolytes is one way to avoid dehydration from causing leg cramps.
    • Proper warm-up - Make sure to warm up before you start swimming. If you do not warm up your muscles prior to a workout, they are much more likely to suffer from cramps and other injuries during exercise.
    • Adequate stretching - Regular stretching can also help prevent cramping by improving flexibility and preventing tightness (which can lead to cramping). Stretch out your hamstrings by touching your toes while standing up straight. Lean forward from the waist and stretch out your back by touching your hands to the ground in front of you or reaching behind your back.
    • Leg strengthening exercises - It's important to know how to strengthen your legs for swimming. Strong legs are less prone to injury and more capable of handling intense workouts.
    Squats are great for stronger legs. Squats work your legs and lower back, two areas that often suffer from swimming-related injuries. They also help improve your balance, which is essential for swimmers. To do this exercise, stand with feet hip-width apart and place hands on hips or hold a weight plate across your chest. Slowly bend your knees as if sitting down until the thighs are parallel to the floor. Then return to a standing position.
    • Body conditioning - Swimming is a full-body workout that targets the arms and exercises the shoulders, abs, and legs. If you don't strengthen the rest of your body, you may end up with muscle soreness and pain that can affect your ability to swim comfortably.

    So, it's important to strengthen your arms and core in addition to your leg muscles before taking on a challenging swim workout. Planking, leg raise and the bridge are ideal strength exercises for swimmers as they help strengthen the arms and the core muscles.

    • Incorporate different forms of therapy:
      • For immediate relief from leg pain after swimming, try icing your legs for about 15 minutes with an ice bag or cold compress.
      • Use a compression device that can improve blood circulation and oxygenation. SPRYNG leg compression wraps are the perfect post-workout recovery tools for active recovery from swimming.[3] These portable and easy to wear recovery tools can help your sore leg muscles alleviate pain as you get on with the rest of your day.


    [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445088/

    [2] https://pursuitathleticperformance.com/2015/do-your-calves-ever-cramp-when-swimming-heres-why/

    [3] https://myswimpro.com/blog/2017/11/10/recovery-for-swimmers-what-you-need-to-know/

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