Recovery and warm-up is a significant component of any swimming race. Many realize different race distances stress the body differently, yet many perform the same warm-down no matter the race difference.
During competitions, swimmers often perform multiple races over various periods of length. some swimmers will compete 4 - 6 times over a course of 6 hours. Others will race one time in a 24-hour period. With different race distances stressing the body differently, how much rest is recommended for each race?
How do you measure recovery?
There are different methods to measure recovery in athletes, here are the most common ones:
- Heart Rate: The common physiological variable used to evaluate recovery time is the heart rate (HR). At the end of exercise, HR returns exponentially to control value, and its decrease is approximately 30-35 beats in the first minute of recovery.
- Blood Lactate: Many swimmers and teams use blood lactate to monitor recovery time. Past studies have found that 100 m of front crawl is characterized by blood lactate concentration of 14-17 mM, that is different from 200 to 400 m of the same style (10-11 mM). Capelli et al. showed that after 100 m of crawl, subjects exhibited same lactate values (even smaller) with respect to 200 m, but with a greater energy cost value and a more energetic contribution coming from anaerobic lactic energy sources.
Recovery can also assess the autonomic nervous system (ANS):
- Heart rate variability (HRV): HRV is the tool used to investigate the cardiac autonomic responses in conjunction with the baroreflex sensitivity (BRS), a reflex that adapt heart period in response to variations in systolic blood pressure (SBP).
How Much recovery Does a 100-m, 200-m, and 400-m require
To analyze how much recovery an individual needs, Piras (2019) looked at 10 male athletes (age 21.60 +/- 1.58 years, height of 179 +/- 0.05 cm, and body mass index of 23.17 +/- 1.33 kg[middle dot]m-2) that competed at the regional level and trained at least 10 hours per week.
This study randomly assigned 100-, 200-, and 400-m distance on different days and monitored recovery
The swimmers averaged the following times during the race time trials (+/-SD) of 100-, 200- and 400-m swimming performances were 57.78 +/- 1.48, 136.52 +/- 8.67, and 269.90 +/- 13.10 seconds, respectively.
Depending on the distance and intensity, here were the findings on the ANS stress from the research group:
- 100-m: BRS mean was reduced for 70 minutes. Number of interval differences of successive RR intervals greater than 50 milliseconds (NN50) changed significantly during the postexercise period, showing a lower values for 90 minutes after athletes performed 100-m. Stroke volume remained at the baseline level during the recovery time of 100-m.
- 200-m: BRS mean was reduced for 70 minutes. NN50 changed significantly during the postexercise period, showing a lower values for 50 minutes with respect to baseline after 200-m.
- 400-m: BRS the reflex restored back to the baseline value after 50 minutes. NN50 changed significantly during the postexercise period, showing a lower values for 50 minutes with respect to baseline after the 400. Stroke volume value shown opposite trend compared with cardiac output. It was kept low for 50 minutes with respect to pre-exercise value after 400 m of swim, whereas it remains at the baseline level during the recovery time of 100 and 200 m.
If you're looking for more information on a 'perfect' swimming warm-down, check this out.
Discussion on Swimming Recovery
The researchers concluded the following take home points:
- 100 m of swimming has a greater influence on ANS recovery time courses in terms of HRV analysis, showing a prolonged reduction with respect to 400 m.
- 200 m has a double effect on HRV, with a delayed recovery on frequency parameters like 100 m, indicative of a greater sympathetic stress, and a faster recovery on time domain indices like 400 m.
Overall, this implies 100-400-m freestyle swimming greatly stresses the ANS. Heart rate and lactate may not tell the whole story for recovery in swimmers. Swimmers should not warm-up the same duration for different swimming distances and intensities. 100- and 200-m swimmers should warm down longer than 400-m swimmers. However, each athlete should have an individualized warm down for their specific body type and energetics.
- Piras, A., Cortesi, M., Campa, F., Perazzolo, M., & Gatta, G. (2019). Recovery time profiling after short-, middle- and long-distance swimming performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,33(5), 1408-1415. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002066
Written by Dr. GJohn Mullen, DPT.