You may wonder why I suggested 'active' rest to Steve Howard I.E. recovering with easy swims rather than sit at the wall for some period of time.
I did so for two reasons:
• In swimming, perception, skill and efficiency are far more influential to performance than physiology. Recovery swims are valuable in resetting - and likely improving - your feel for the best way to swim the next effortful swim. When I do active rest, I swim the easier repeats 1 to 2 SPL below the count I’m striving to maintain on the effortful swim. If my effortful swim is fairly intensive--say, 90+ percent of max effort--I do the first lap of recovery with a focus more on relaxation. That can mean a lap of shorter--but entirely 'unloaded'--strokes. After my HR and breathing ease a bit, and my muscles relax, I resume holding a lower count.
• Turning to a physiological perspective, there's strong evidence that for ‘mature’ athletes (ages 40 and above) active rest provides more complete recovery than passive. As heart rate slows with age, that means less blood volume circulates through the liver in the given period of time. You get less physiological recovery in the same time frame than a younger swimmer who is 10, 20, 30 yrs younger. When I did swim Masters, I prided myself in matching speed with swimmers who were often 10 to 25 years younger. Even when I did manage to swim the same time they did—because my heart beat more slowly--I was less recovered when it came time to push off for the next repeats. Giving up several decades to them already, that hardly seemed fair!
I asked TI Coach Suzanne Atkinson MD (see her blog here
) to weigh in. Here’s what she wrote: It’s well documented that active recovery clears lactate faster than passive rest. Implications? If lactate is associated with acid which is associated with fatigue/discomfort/pain, that sounds like a good idea.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that, even though I decrease effort I need to keep an undiminished focus on technique during easier, recovery swims. Because intensive efforts leave me with an oxygen debt, I need to breathe frequently during recovery lengths. Yet my stroke rate and effort is more on par with how I swim during warmups—when I have no oxygen debt. So warmup/swim/rest/swim is a very different dynamic than warmup/swim fast/swim easy/swim fast without absolute rest. This probably also correlates to slowed HR & how much blood volume circulates in an older vs. younger athlete in a rest interval of, say, 20 seconds, but I’d need to look at that further.