Swimming Rest, Recovery & Restoration

Rest, Recovery, Restoration and Racing: Managing Yourself to Get the Most out of Your Training.

by Wayne Goldsmith
Swim Coaching Brain www.swimcoachingbrain.com


One of the most important skills you can develop is the ability to look after yourself. It is easy when you are a young swimmer - mum and dad do everything. But as you get older and more serious about training and racing, you need to take responsibility for looking after yourself and making sure you are fit and well and ready for anything.

How does a driver know that his or her car is going OK? The driver looks at the dials and gauges on the dash board and gets information about the various parts of the car. A quick look at the car's instrument panel can tell the driver a lot about how the car is operating: oil pressure, speed, engine temperature, battery charge levels, revs, water pressure and so on are all available and at the ready to give the driver details on how the car is performing. This allows the driver to make clear decisions about how to drive and what needs to be done to keep the car working at its best.

It would be nice if you had a set of dials and gauges on your arm or chest or legs that you could look at every day and check to see how your body is going. Imagine being able to look at a dial that told you how tired you were, how much food you needed to eat, how hard you needed to train and how much sleep you needed.

Short of radical surgery to turn yourself into a half human - half robot swimming machine, there are some simple things you can do everyday to manage and monitor how your body is adapting the stress and strains of training and racing.

It starts with writing down some of the following things in a training diary or training logbook. Your logbook is your set of dials and gauges that tells you how the "swimming machine" is going.

Here are some ideas of what to put in your training diary:

1. Smiley Faces

In your training diary or on a training chart draw a smiley face that best describes how you feel on that day.

  • Draw this face if you feel great.
  • Draw this face if you feel OK - just average.
  • Draw this face if you feel really low, slow, tired and fatigued.

�Sometimes it is hard to put into words how you feel but these faces can sometimes say a lot more than a page of notes. Don't restrict yourself to these three faces - be as imaginative as you like. Try to draw how you feel.

2. Take your own heart rate

Your heart is an excellent indicator of how hard your body is working. It is also a good indicator of how well your body is recovering from hard training and a tough competition schedule.

Take your heart rate every morning just after you wake up. Please two fingers lightly on the outside of your wrist near the base of your thumb. You will feel a little pulse rhythmically beating away. This is called your RHR - Resting Heart Rate.

Count the number of beats you feel for 30 seconds then double that number to get BPM - Beats per minute.

As you get fitter and stronger from training, your RHR should get lower and slower. This basically means your heart is getting more efficient at doing what it has to do. Fit swimmers will have a consistent RHR every morning that will not vary more than a beat or two.

However, if you are training too hard and not getting enough rest, your resting heart rate will actually increase. It is not uncommon for a swimmer training too hard to experience increases in their resting heart rate of 5-15 beats per minute.

3. Mood

Being "moody" is also a good indicator of how your body and mind are adapting to training and competition.

Use the mood scale - a rating scale of 1-5 where "one" is feeling really low and in a bad mood and "five" is feeling great and fully charged - ready to take on the world.

Athletes who are in a bad mood, feeling flat, negative and angry are often just showing the signs of over training and over straining in the pursuit of excellence.

4. Sleep

Tired athletes for some reason often sleep poorly. The short answer might be that the bodies of tired athletes are still working even when they are resting, ie their bodies are using rest time to repair, rebuild and regenerate and constantly stay in an active state.

Rate the QUALITY of your sleep out of 5. "One" is a terrible sleep - one of those terrible nights where you tossed and turned and struggled to get any sleep. A "five" sleep means you fell asleep quickly and slept soundly most of the night.

Rating the quality of your sleep rather than the quantity makes sense as it is virtually impossible to remember exactly WHEN you fell asleep.

Seems a bit crazy, but it is often the case that really tired athletes have difficulty sleeping. This means they go to bed tired, wake up tired and stay tired most of the time. Good sleep and good swimming go hand in hand.

5. Weight

Get in the habit of weighing yourself - usually in the morning after going to the toilet but before eating or drinking anything. The main reason for doing this is to make sure you are not LOSING weight. Fit, healthy, growing swimmers generally keep a fairly even, constant weight. However, sudden weight loss over a 24 hour period can mean one of three things:

  • You are dehydrated
  • You are fatigued and your body is struggling to maintain normal functions
  • Both of the above.

Get in the habit of aiming to weigh the same just before going to bed as you did just after waking that same morning. Weight loss over the time you are awake is generally just water loss - water loss that needs to be replaced.

6. Muscle Soreness

When muscles work hard, sometimes they feel tight and sore. Sometimes this soreness will not become obvious until a day or two after a tough training session or following hard racing. This soreness is called D.O.M.S. (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) and can literally be a pain in the neck (or butt or arms or legs or somewhere else).

In your diary, record muscle soreness. A rating of "1" means your muscles are feeling strong, loose and relaxed and a "5" means your muscles feel like you have gone ten rounds with the world heavy weight boxing champion (and lost).

  Smiley Face Heart Rate Mood Sleep Weight Muscle Soreness
Monday   54 3 4 54 kg 2
Tuesday   55 2 4 54 kg 3
Wednesday   53 3 2 54 kg 3
Thursday   62 2 3 53 kg 3
Friday   64 2 1 52 kg 4
Saturday   69 2 2 53 kg 4
Sunday   58 4 3 54 kg 3
Average   59.3 2.6 2.7 53.4 3.1

Self Monitoring Recording Sheet (example)

You can record your information on a simple sheet like this. In this example, notice how as the week progresses, that the swimmer shows several signs of tiredness and fatigue. On Friday, the swimmer drew a sad face and reported being in a bad mood (ie 2 out of 5), having poor quality sleep (1 out of 5) and rated their muscle soreness as high (4 out of 5).

Also between Wednesday and Friday the swimmer lost two kilograms of body weight. Whilst this by itself is not a big problem, added to the other factors (sleep, mood and muscle soreness) it may be a sign all is not well.

In addition, the swimmer's heart rate was steady early in the week, then like everything else, things seemed to get worse by Thursday and Friday.

This is one swimmer who was looking forward to the weekend!

It is important to note that one of these signs may not mean anything at all. For example, your morning heart rate can be higher than usual if you have drunk a little too much caffeine the night before, gone to bed dehydrated or had a scary dream. However, two or three of the warning signs happening at the same time may mean you have a problem on the way.

A picture tells a thousand words so sometimes it is a good idea to put the information into a chart or graph. This Self Monitoring Chart clearly shows the profile of a tired swimmer.


Look after yourself. The best coach, the best pool, the best program are of little use if you are always too tired and too fatigued to take advantage of these opportunities.

Keep a training log or training diary and record the day to day workings of your body. Over time you will learn what works best for you. Your ability to monitor and manage yourself will be an important key to being successful.




Thanks to Wayne Goldsmith from Swim Coaching Brain for providing this article. Wayne is one of the world's leading experts in elite level swimming and high performance sport.