Swimming and the Art of Recovery
Stretching and Recovery
Stretching is a key component of the daily training plan for athletes. It plays an important role in the recovery process and in preparing for the next training session. Stretching increases blood flow to muscles, stimulates the passage of amino acids (building blocks of protein) into muscles, accelerates protein synthesis in cells, and inhibits protein breakdown. These processes help the muscle repair itself and improve the body's ability to recover in time for subsequent practices or competitions.
Stretching as part of recovery can also reduce the chance of injury and enhance stroke technique during subsequent swims. Its effects on increasing flexibility and range of motion allow the arms and legs to move freely and unencumbered.
A few important directions for stretching:
• Stretch when muscles are warmed-up.
• Stretch major muscle groups (lower leg, upper leg, back, shoulders, neck).
• Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
• Do not bounce.
• Do not stretch to the point of feeling pain. If you stretch and feel pain, you may be at risk of tearing a muscle.
• Do not hold your breath. Breathe freely and stay relaxed.
Keep in mind that not all athletes are built the same. A stretching routine that works for one person may not work equally as well on another person. A stretching program should be designed for the individual, taking into consideration individual needs and body type.
Cool Down and Recovery
Swimming at high intensities, such as during racing and tough sets, can cause metabolites like inorganic phosphate, ADP, hydrogen ions, and of course, lactate to accumulate in the muscles. A build-up of these metabolites is associated with conditions that can compromise the next swimming performance.
Cool down (active recovery) facilitates the removal/ utilisation of lactate after a race or tough set. The intensity of the cool down influences how quickly this removal/utilisation of lactate occurs. Too high an intensity may produce additional lactate, while too low an intensity may not create enough circulation to remove/utilise the lactate any faster than standing around would (passive recovery).
Because sprinters tend to have and engage more fast-twitch muscle fibres than distance swimmers, they tend to produce larger amounts of lactate than distance swimmers. This also means that it tends to take longer for sprinters to remove/utilise accumulated lactate after races and other tough swims.
At meets where a warm down pool is not available, swimmers should complete their active recovery on land.
This should include active stretching, light jogging, arm rotations and/or other land-based exercises that engage the same muscle groups used during the swim. Even on land, this type of activity increases the blood circulation and removes/utilises metabolites faster than passive recovery alone.