This week we had an interview on recovery for swimmers with Dr. Alessandro Piras from the University of Bologna. Here is a link to his Research Gate page and here is our review of the study we are reviewing on swimmer recovery.
1. How can one evaluate how much swimmer recovery is necessary after a race (heart rate, lactate, etc.)?
Different measures are used to evaluate fatigue in a sport like swimming. The most immediate is heart rate recovery, and index needed to evaluate how much time your body goes back to pre-exercise. More time needed more tired is the athlete. One HR index, very helpful for determining athlete efficiency is Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a tool that can provide a unique and non-invasive insight into autonomic balance and relative sympathetic‐parasympathetic output in elite athletes and practitioners. The use of HRV in sport has arisen from being mainly a research‐based tool to its current clinical role in the monitoring of cardiovascular fitness and the prevention of overtraining and postexercise fatigue.
2. In general, how can a swimmer determine warm-down length and intensity?
Swimmers can use several physiological parameters to monitor their fatigue level and determine if their body has reached the baseline level (pre-exercise). For example, the level of lactate, that before doing exercise has a value not greater than 1.5 mmol/L. Another physiological parameter is heart rate recovery, where after light work HR follows an exponential rate of decline back to resting levels. Meanwhile, after heavy exercise, the recovery pattern is characterized by at least two different phases, an initial exponential drop (fast phase) followed by a slower decline to resting levels (slow phase).
3. For warm-down, if a pool isn’t available, what do you recommend?
Several methods can be used for recovery. For example, a cool down could be reached cycling at low intensity with the aim to restore lactate to baseline level. It is a very inexpensive methodology. Another approach is ice bath, or, for those who have more finance, cryotherapy is a very cool-down method that can help the athlete to reach pre-exercise or pre-competition level in a very short time. These improvements are induced by enhanced oxygenation of the working muscles, as well as a reduction in cardiovascular strain and an increased work economy. So, if athletes have been dealing with muscle pains or body soreness, cryotherapy is one of the quickest and most effective solutions to ease your body’s soreness and help athletes to feel as good as new (see my paper on cryotherapy effects between strength and interval training (Piras et al., Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2019).
4. Are there any other tools or tricks that can facilitate warm-down?
Yes, as indicated before, other tools can be used, depends on financial that support athletes. More precisely, an ice bath is not expensive, athletes need a bath in which water has a temperature of about 10°C and they stay inside for at least 10 minutes immediately after exercise. Cryotherapy is more expensive, but faster because it needs just 3 minutes exposing the body to hyper-cooled air, ~-160°C. Moreover, a growing body of evidence has focused on the benefits of protein supplements on post-exercise muscle anabolism, which, in theory, could affect the recovery of muscle function. Until now, there are limited, quality experimental data to demonstrate that ingestion of a protein supplement before, during or following an acute bout of exercise or after daily training sessions will attenuate muscle soreness and/or reduce markers of muscle damage.
5. What do we still need to research regarding recovery and warm-down in swimming?
More information needs still to be confirmed, and especially on the sport recovery process. For example, just a few days ago I was reading a review in sport recovery in which a novel approach has been proposed (Loch et al., Performance Enhancement & Health, 2019). Loch has focused his review to summarise current knowledge of mental recovery and deviate potential mental recovery strategies for short rest periods in sports. The consideration of potential mental recovery strategies (e.g., breathing techniques, mental imagery, power naps, debriefing, mental detachment) suggests that they appear to have positive effects on mental states such as concentration, attention, vigilance as well as on performance outcomes. Furthermore, since behavioral manifestations (e.g., the decline in physical and mental performance, decrease in time to exhaustion) and psychological manifestations (e.g., perceived exertion) are described as key outcomes of mental fatigue, potential mental recovery strategies aim to counterbalance these signals of fatigue. Loch underlined that there is an apparent lack of evidence on the use and effects of mental recovery strategies in short rest periods relating to sport settings to overcome an acute state of mental fatigue. Scientific findings are available, but beneficial effects still need to be verified for training and competition recovery in relevant sports, such as swimming.