Getting into the swing of swimming takes some time. You use major muscle groups when you swim, including your biceps, triceps, pectorals, glutes, thighs, calves, deltoids, hips and adductors, to name a few. As a result, like any fitness regimen, it's easy to feel the soreness in your muscles, even after your first and second swimming sessions.
The Source of Muscle Pain
When you overdo any kind of physical effort, including swimming, you're likely to develop sore or stiff muscles. It's also known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and can happen whether it's your first swim session or your millionth. By exercising as hard as you can, you're likely to develop sore muscles because you've torn or ruptured individual muscle cells -- this is part of the process of building new muscle and growing stronger. This is why your muscles may swell, or why you can't move your arms as well.
Stretching Before Swimming
If you don't stretch your muscles before swimming, your muscles can tear more easily as the muscle tries to move through its range of motion. So when you swim freestyle, your arm muscles -- specifically, your biceps, triceps and shoulders -- will feel that burn. Stretching before you get in the water can help prevent muscle tearing. As you stretch, your muscles will loosen up so you're already relaxed and ready to go before you start swimming.
Swimming Warmups and Cooldowns
If it's your first or second time swimming laps, then you should start getting in the habit of warming up and cooling down before and after your workout. A slow warmup will prevent you from swimming "cold," as “cold” muscles that suddenly have to work hard are more likely to become damaged. Warmups also gradually increase your heart and breathing rates while increasing the flow of oxygen to your muscles. Likewise, cooling down after a workout helps lower your heart and breathing rates back to resting levels. DOMS is caused by sudden increases in intensity or duration, so without warmups and cooldowns, your muscles can become unnecessarily tired.
Ways to Soothe Sore Muscles
Topical products, especially those that include menthol or trolamine salicylate, can help bring temporary relief to inflamed muscles. These products come from the same family of medicine as aspirin. While they don't promote healing, they can make you feel better. Additionally, you can apply heat by lying on a heating pad to increase blood flow and relax your muscles. Another method is to massage your muscles post-workout, which can help fight inflammation and increase white blood cells that help keep down swelling.
Nadia Osman is a California-based writer. She has covered travel, real estate, fashion, fitness and other topics for various online publications. Osman holds a B.A. in history from UC Irvine.