Lactic Acid and the Multi-event/Multi-day meet

Many swimmers work very hard all year, paying the price to improve.  They deal with sore muscles, the tired body, going to bed early and fighting off falling asleep at work or school.  They want to see the payoff at their season’s big meet.

Then after a great taper, they head off to the competition and find that they don’t swim well after the first event or first day, each day getting tougher to perform.  Of course, there can be many reasons this can happen, but here is a leading cause that I see far too often.

After you pull yourself out of the last event of the day, all you want to do is get into dry clothes and go eat a real meal.  I get it, but your body needs something else first.  It needs you to burn off the lactic acid that your muscles created. At top speeds your muscles are creating lactic acid, a fall out of the chemical process where your body breaks down carbohydrates for energy, faster than your body can clear it from your system.   While many people think that this lactic acid is causing your muscle soreness the next day, there is no direct proof that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is from the lactate left behind in the muscle.  It is believed by some researches to be microtears and swelling in the muscle fiber. Regardless of which side is correct the answer is the same, warm down.

Here is the part many swimmers don’t understand. The shorter sprint races produce much higher levels of lactic acid then distance events. Testing done on national level swimmers showed that after a 50 yard sprint swimmers needed up to 1500 yards to fully recover. Now I realize that 1500 yards is probably more than most of us can do between races in a single session, but I push my swimmers to do longer warm downs between events and I don’t let my swimmers get away with less than 400 between events and 1,000 yards at the end of each day of the meet.  My swimmers are normal swim 4,000 yards a day in workout, so I realize some of you who swim much less yardage may not be able to handle 1,000 yards of warm down.  I would encourage those who do low yardage workouts to try to do at least 25% of their total normal workout yardage as a warm down at the end of the day’s events.

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