20-Minute Swimming Workout for Active Recovery Days

Women swimming laps

Getty Images / Matt Henry Gunther

Swimming is a popular activity around the globe for people of all ages and fitness abilities. In fact, given it reduces the risk of musculoskeletal issues, it's a safe form of exercise for most people.

Aside from its cardiovascular benefits, a study by Swim England found that swimming can lower the risk of early death, and partaking in the sport helps people to stay both mentally and physically fit. The same report found swimming to have a positive impact on anyone suffering from joint and muscle problems, given the "weightlessness" of the body in the water.

Other benefits of swimming include:

  • Builds muscular endurance: The act of continuously pushing water away during strokes helps you build resistance over an extended period of time.
  • Tones the body: Whether it's moving your entire body, or focusing on upper and lower body drills, swimming has the ability to work many muscles to tone and build strength.
  • Cardio or HIIT workout: Swimming can elevate your heart rate during steady-state laps and spike it further during intense sprints. Both can promote cardiovascular health.
  • Safe for the joints: The low-impact environment of the water reduces stress on the joints and the potential for injury.

What is Active Recovery?

There are two types of recovery. Passive, which is a total rest from exercise, and active, where you engage in a form of low-intensity exercise. By definition, active recovery is a technique of performing lighter activity than your usual workout (such as swimming or jogging) with the aim to enhance recovery.

Active recovery is important for a number of reasons, including reducing fatigue, improving blood flow to the muscles and joints for better recovery, and stopping you from overtraining. Quite often, active recovery takes place right after a workout during the cool-down phase, such as a slow jog following a run. This can even incorporate techniques such as massage and self-myofascial release using foam rollers.

Is Swimming a Good Form of Active Recovery?

Given its suitability for most populations, swimming is an optimal sport for active recovery days. "Swimming is an excellent form of active recovery as you can move with ease on your front or back, maintaining a horizontal flow for blood to reach the upper body more efficiently," explains Zvika Zelinger, a leading Israeli swim trainer and public speaker.

A study on 21 swimmers who completed a series of swimming drills found that active post-recuperation exercises increased the rate of blood lactate dissipation, meaning the physical performance of swimmers was improved.

These active recovery sessions allow the body time to clear the lactic acid, a byproduct of your body converting glucose into energy, helping us recover quicker.

Another study focused on 11 competitive swimmers who performed two 100-meter maximal swim drills, followed by a 15-minute interval of either: 15-minutes passive recovery; a combined 5-minute active and 10-minute passive recovery; or a 10-minute active and 5-minute passive recovery.

The main finding is that a 5-minute active recovery, followed by 10 minutes of passive recovery, improved their performance, concluding that active recovery for five minutes is adequate to reduce blood lactate concentration and positively affect subsequent performance.

“The benefits of a swim recovery include a low impact exercise for the whole body, with multiple ways to move all muscle groups and joints that you may not be able to do on land,” says Terry Fritch, Head Coach of Life Time Swim of North Carolina.

“Water provides a buoyancy factor that provides movement to workout that can be less stressful on the body, and you can better control your heart rate to potentially exercise for a longer period of time.”

20-Minute Active Recovery Swim For Beginners

Here is some key terminology when discussing swim workouts:

  • Streamline position: Arms are held out straight in front of you, with hands crossed over one another and the arms extended over the head (biceps close to the ears). This position creates the least amount of resistance.
  • Breaststroke: One of the most popular swimming styles, breaststroke is similar to how a frog swims in water, with the torso steady and alternating between arm strokes and kicking the legs to propel forward.
  • Backstroke (or back crawl): This style of swimming requires lifting one arm at a time out of the water and back in with a circular motion, and the legs kicking straight in front.
  • Freestyle (or front crawl): This category of swimming competition combines a flutter kick of the legs with one arm reaching out at a time with a pulling and recovery phase.
  • Dolphin kicks: Also known as the dolphin stroke, the legs swim up and down at the same time, with the knees bent during the upward motion. During the push-off phase, dolphin kicks can give you an additional surge in the water.

What to Expect: This 20-minute active recovery workout includes a warm-up, a workout, and a cool-down.


Repeat twice:

  • 50-meter breaststroke with arms only, keeping your legs closed together
  • 50-meter kick, holding onto a foam board and kicking with just the legs and feet

The Workout

Complete twice:

  • 25-meter freestyle swim, keeping your hands in a fist
  • 25-meters freestyle swim, hands in a normal position


Keep one arm in front, touching the ear, and the other arm near the thigh for a better axis rotation as you swim.

Followed by:

  • 100-meter freestyle: swim with a one-arm stroke, followed by two kicks before switching arms. When kicking, keep arms in a streamlined position.
  • 100-meter count: after one freestyle stroke, hold a streamline position and count to three before swimming another stroke
  • 50-meter freestyle, breathing every third stroke


  •  100-meter slow and easy swim with a stroke of your choice to finish

20-Minute Active Recovery Swim For Intermediate & Advanced

What to Expect: This 20-minute active recovery workout is suitable for experienced swimmers. It includes a warm-up, a workout, and a cool-down.


  • 100-meter classic backstroke with one stroke and two kicks

The Workout

  • 100-meter classic backstroke
  • 100-meter freestyle, breathing every three arm strokes and then every five strokes


Swim easy, calm, and steady, even when you’re short on air.

  • 50-meter freestyle to backstroke kick rotation: use only kicks to rotate from your front to your back around every seven seconds.

Complete twice:

  • 50-meter freestyle with dolphin kicks
  • 50-meter breaststroke with arms and dolphin kicks

Followed by:

  • 100-meter breaststroke with an exaggerated arm stretch


Stretch as much as you can while holding a streamlined position with pointed feet and extended shoulders.

The Cool-Down

  • 50-meter freestyle
  • 50-meter classic backstroke
4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Major New Study on Health Benefits of Swimming Released. Swim England. 2021.

  2. Ortiz RO, Sinclair Elder AJ, Elder CL, Dawes JJ. A systematic review on the effectiveness of active recovery interventions on athletic performance of professional-, collegiate-, and competitive-level adult athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2019;33(8):2275-2287. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002589

  3. Hinzpeter J, Zamorano Á, Cuzmar D, Lopez M, Burboa J. Effect of active versus passive recovery on performance during intrameet swimming competitionSports Health. 2014;6(2):119-121. doi:10.1177/1941738113500769

  4. Toubekis AG, Tsolaki A, Smilios I, Douda HT, Kourtesis T, Tokmakidis SP. Swimming performance after passive and active recovery of various durationsInternational Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2008;3(3):375-386. doi:10.1123/ijspp.3.3.375