EFFECTS OF ACTIVE RECOVERY ON LACTATE CONCENTRATION, HEART RATE
AND RPE IN CLIMBING
Centre for Adventure Science Research, University of Chichester, Chichester,
West Sussex, UK
23 December 2005
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 97
Google Scholar for Citing Articles
performance advantage of active rather than passive recovery during
subsequent trials for repeated high intensity short-term exercise
is well documented. Research findings suggest that shorter periods
of active recovery, than traditionally employed, can be prescribed
and still retain performance benefits over passive recoveries in successive
exercise trials. The aim of this study was to examine the benefits
of a short duration active recovery for repeat climbing trials. Ten
recreational climbers volunteered for the study. In this randomly
assigned crossover study each climber completed five two-minute climbing
trails before a two minute active or passive recovery. This was followed
by a one and a half minute passive refocusing period for all climbers
before the subsequent climbing trial. Heart rate was monitored continuously,
RPE immediately post climbing and fingertip capillary blood samples
collected during each refocusing phase. There was a non-significant
difference between active and passive recoveries for heart rate during
climbing. After the active phase climbers had higher heart rates than
when following the passive recovery protocol, however, by the end
of the refocusing phase the active recovery protocol led to lower
heart rates than for the entirely passive recovery. There was a significant
difference between active and passive recovery conditions in lactate
concentration (F(1,9) = 18.79, p = 0.002) and RPE (F(1,9)
= 6.51, p = 0.031). Lactate concentration and RPE were lower across
all five climbing trials for the active recovery protocol. After active
recovery climbers started the next trial with a lower arterial lactate
concentration than for a passive recovery and indicated lower RPE
scores at the end of each climb. The refocusing period following active
recovery allowed climbers heart rates to return to a lower level at
the start of the next climb than for the passive recovery condition.
WORDS: Rock climbing, RPE, lactate concentration, active recovery.
The identification of lactic acid as a product of muscle activity
was discovered early in the 20th Century (Fletcher and
Since this time the body of knowledge relating to the production
and removal of lactate in relation to exercise has grown (Van Hall
et al., 2002).
It has been shown that short-term high intensity exercise produces
high levels of arterial lactate with values of up to 25 mmol·1-1
being reported in highly motivated individuals (Mainwood and Renaud,
McLoughlin et al., 1991;
Rowell et al., 1986).
Research tracing the fate of lactate has identified that a number
of organs are involved in lactate removal (Connolly et al., 2003).
During exercise producing high arterial lactate concentrations it
has been found that both active and non-active skeletal muscles
uptake lactate (Ahlborg et al., 1975;
Carlson and Pernow, 1959;
Freyschuss and Strandell, 1967).
Research by Gollnick et al., 1981
revealed that in cycle ergometry, where one leg had reduced and
the other normal glycogen stores, in the leg with higher stores
the active muscles released lactate into the blood whereas those
in the other leg consumed lactate. Further to this it has been shown
that lactate uptake by skeletal muscle is increased when light exercise
is performed in preference to complete rest (Hermansen and Stensvold,
Richter et al., 1988).
There appears to be a dynamic situation with regard to the exchange
of lactate as a fuel source across muscle fibres within an exercising
muscle and between working and non-working muscle groups.
Glycolytic metabolism and the effects of lactate on performance
have now been studied in relation to active and passive recovery
for over thirty years (Belcastro and Bonen, 1975;
Hermansen and Stensvold, 1972;
Weltman et al., 1977).
Research has predominately employed a single high intensity short
duration exercise bout capable of producing high levels of lactate.
In early studies relatively long duration recoveries were utilised
to achieve significantly lower lactate levels. Hermansen and Stensvold
and Belcastro and Bonen, 1975,
for example, employed periods of 30 minutes treadmill running at
60-70% VO2max and recumbent cycling at 30-45% VO2max
Later studies by Ahmaidi et al. , 1996,
Bogdanis et al., 1996
and Corder et al., 2000
have gone on to examine the effects of shorter duration active recovery
between repeated bouts of cycling or parallel squats. These recovery
periods, which were of four to five minutes duration, were not designed
to reduce lactate levels to pre-exercise conditions, but to maintain
performance levels across subsequent trials and to optimise lactate
removal when compared with passive recovery. Ahmaidi et al., 1996
and Corder et al., 2000
found significant reductions in lactate during short duration low
intensity active recoveries when compared with passive recovery
involving three or more bouts. In addition, performance and rating
of perceived exertion (RPE) appeared to improve in the low intensity
recovery condition. Although research findings remain equivocal
as to whether reductions in lactate lead to a resultant improvement
in performance (Ainsworth et al., 1993;
Bangsbo et al., 1994)
it does appear that long periods of recovery such as those employed
by Hermansen and Stensvold (1972)
and Belcastro and Bonen, 1975
may not be required in situations of repeated exercise.
The sport of climbing has a great variety of disciplines with a
wide range of exercise intensities placing different demands on
the climber's energy systems. Climbing bouldering problems, consisting
of approximately one to four moves, will rely on ATP stores within
the muscles and the replenishment of ATP through the ATP-PC system.
For longer bouldering problems and short sport climbing routes of
one to two-minutes duration - the climbing equivalent of short term
high intensity exercise - glycolysis provides the main energy source.
On mountain routes and in big wall climbing, where the relative
intensity of climbing is lower the aerobic energy system becomes
the major source for the demands of the activity. In a climbing
context the employment of an active recovery strategy is most appropriate
for bouldering and short (often pre-practised) sport climbing routes.
Sport climbing involves the climber clipping their safety rope to
pre-placed steel or aluminium anchors as they ascend the climb.
In the discipline of bouldering climbers ascend smaller routes of
up to approximately five metres in height without the use of ropes,
but often with a safety mat placed below the climb.
The great variety of forms of climbing available and the increasing
development of indoor climbing walls has led to a rise in the popularity
of the sport worldwide (BMC, 2004). A growing body of research has
accompanied this rise in climbing participation with the publication
of studies describing anthropometric profiles, (Watts et al., 1993;
Mermier et al., 2000)
changes in hand grip strength and endurance (Watts et al., 1996)
and energy expenditure in rock climbing (Mermier et al., 1997;
Booth et al., 1999).
The application of active and passive recovery in climbing has been
studied and documented once by Watts et al., 2000.
This novel research used fifteen expert climbers who led a single
20 metre route graded at 5.12b using the Yosemite Decimal Scale
(YDS) set on an indoor climbing wall. On completion of the route
subjects were lowered to the ground and completed a 30-minute recovery
period. For the active recovery group blood lactate remained elevated
above pre-climb level for 20 minutes, where as it took the full
30 minutes for the passive recovery group's lactate concentrations
to return to pre-climb levels. Watts et al., 2000
concluded that there was a need for further sport specific research
into the effects of short duration active recovery during high intensity
intermittent climbing trials.
In a study by Connolly et al., 2003
the researchers identified the need to bring study protocols in
the area of active and passive recovery closer to strategies employed
by sports performers in training and competition. Athletes would
generally not wait up to 30 minutes before completing a further
exercise trial. Further research employing shorter recovery periods
is required to examine their appropriateness for use with athletes
involved in short duration high intensity exercise. Consequently,
the aim of this study was to examine the effects of a short-term
active recovery on repeat performance in high intensity short duration
Ten male recreational climbers (age 22 ±
years; height 1.74 ±
m; mass 70.6 ±
kg; mean ±
from the University of Chichester volunteered to participate in
this study. Ethical approval was obtained for the study and all
climbers completed informed consent and a health history questionnaire.
The participants were regular climbers for whom climbing was a main
recreational activity, taking part in one or two indoor sessions
per week on a regular basis.
All participants completed both active and passive recovery conditions
using a randomly assigned two-way crossover design. A minimum of
seven days was given between each condition. Participants followed
a ten minute warm-up which comprised of light jogging, stretching
and low intensity bouldering. Personal rock boots and chalk bags
were used throughout. The climbing protocol was identical for both
conditions and consisted of five two minute climbing trials. In
the passive recovery condition participants rested for two minutes
after each climb. For the active recovery condition participants
completed a two minute active recovery protocol. After this all
participants undertook a further one and half minute passive recovery.
Sports performers do not move immediately from an active recovery
to the next bout of exercise. They generally take time after stopping
exercise to prepare for the next exercise bout. To maintain the
ecological validity for a climbing context a refocusing period was
included for both recovery protocols. The refocusing phase was designed
to allow climbers to prepare themselves mentally for the next climbing
trial, clean their boots and re-chalk their fingers. During this
time arterial capillary blood samples (150 µl) were collected from
the right index fingertip of each climber and analysed using a YSI
2300 Stat Plus (Yellow Springs Instruments, Ohio, USA). Blood lactate
samples were taken post warm-up, post two minute recovery after
each climbing phase and five minutes post climb five. Rating
of Perceived Exertion was recorded immediately post climbing using
the Borg scale (Borg, 1982)
and heart rate was taken every five seconds throughout using a Polar
PE3000 Heart Rate Monitor (Polar Electro Oy, Kempele, Finland).
Participants were required to climb on an indoor wall up and down
a specific route between clearly marked holds for duration of two
minutes for five trials in each condition. A climbing duration was
allocated as opposed to a single ascent to counteract any individual
differences in any climber's ability. This protocol was based on
research by Hardy and Martindale, 1982
who found that expert climbers travelled further than beginner climbers
in the same time period, while producing similar lactate levels.
As is shown in Figure 1 the
wall was set at an angle beyond vertical (106o) to achieve
an increased work load resulting in higher lactate levels as proposed
by Watts and Drobish (1998). The starting and finishing holds are
shown in Figure 2 and set at
4.1 metre displacement. For each trial climbers started using the
bottom left holds. During the trial climbers followed a self-selected
route to the top finishing hold and then down-climbed to the starting
position, continuing this pattern until the end of the two minutes.
The climb was designed such that which ever route was selected the
grade was maintained at English technical 4C (YDS 5.8). Twenty centimetre
Sutcliffe Leisure Safety mats were used throughout testing in case
a climber fell. If a participant did fall, they were asked to step
back on and continue until the two minute trial was completed.
The active recovery protocol was designed to incorporate an ecologically
valid recovery method usable by climbers in the climbing environment.
This required an alternative approach than the laboratory procedures
of recumbent cycling used by Belcastro and Bonen, 1975,
Connolly et al., 2003,
Watts et al., 2000.
A walking-based recovery strategy was employed for the purposes
of this study. To accurately control the intensity of the two minutes
of active recovery a modified version of level
one of the sportscoachUK multistage fitness test with a reduced
distance of 14 metres, as opposed to the original 20 metres, was
developed (Leger and Lambert, 1982).
This resulted in participants walking at a moderate to fast walking
pace. During the two minutes active recovery each participant completed
a distance of 182 metres. The passive recovery involved two minutes
of resting in a seated position. Both active and passive recoveries
were then followed by one and a half minutes of passive recovery
to enable participants to refocus for the subsequent climbing trail.
This time was also utilised to enable blood lactate sampling and
for the sample pinprick to dry before a subsequent climbing trial,
giving an overall recovery of three and a half minutes.
Descriptive data, means and standard deviations, were calculated
for lactate concentration, RPE and heart rate data after being checked
for normality using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. Two-way repeated
measures ANOVA were then employed to analyse the lactate and RPE
data - condition (active or passive recovery) by climbing trial.
For the during climb heart rate data five paired samples t-tests
were calculated to examine whether the work intensity, as measured
by heart rate response, was significantly different for the active
or passive recovery conditions. To analyse the recovery phase heart
rate data the mean and standard deviation heart rate responses for
active and passive recoveries were calculated across three points
of the recovery. These points were the heart rate for climbers at
the start of the recovery phase, at the end of the two minute passive/active
recovery and lastly at the end of the one and a half minutes refocusing
phase. From these results the scores from start of warm-up to end
of active/passive recovery and start and end of recovery were computed.
The scores were analysed using paired samples t-tests to check for
significant differences between recovery strategies. An alpha level
of p < 0.05 was set to assess statistical significance of results
and the analyses were calculated using the SPSS 12.0.1 for Windows
and Microsoft excel software packages.
from the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test indicated that data for lactate
concentration, RPE and heart rate displayed normality of distribution.
The lactate concentration data for the two conditions, active and
passive recoveries, are shown in Figure
3. The mean lactate concentrations were between 0.9 and 1.2
mmol·1-1 higher for passive recovery after each of the
five climbing trials.
There was a significant difference between active and passive recovery
conditions (F(1,9) = 18.79, p = 0.002). As Figure
3 shows the mean lactate concentrations rose with successive
climbing trials for both conditions (F(4,36) = 4.04,
p = 0.038). Rating of perceived exertion scores are shown for the
two conditions in Table 1.
Participants reported between 0.6 and 1.0 higher RPE scores when
utilising the passive recovery protocol.
A significant difference was found between conditions (F(1,9)
= 6.51, p = 0.031). As Table 1
shows the mean RPE scores rose with successive climbing trials for
both conditions (F(4,36) = 69.89, p < 0.0005).
rates during climbing were recorded every five seconds throughout
the climb duration. From this data the mean heart rate for each
climber on each trial was calculated. The data for heart rates during
climbing can be seen in Table 2.
Five paired samples t-tests were carried out to ensure equality
of work intensity between the recovery conditions. There were no
significant differences in heart rate for any of the climbing trials
and the differences between the paired means in any of the trials
was less than or equal to three bts·min-1.
heart rate data for the three points in the recovery can be seen
in Table 3. The mean heart
rates at the start of the recovery were similar and differed by
less than four bts·min-1 between active and passive recovery
conditions. By the transition from the active/passive phase to the
refocusing phase there was a 17 - 23 bts·min-1 difference
between the two conditions. The heart rates were higher for the
active recovery condition for each of the five trials. At the end
of the refocusing phase, just before the climbers began their next
climb, the heart rates were within five bts·min-1 for
the two conditions.
paired samples t-tests were carried out on scores between start
of recovery and transition and between start of recovery and end
of recovery (refocusing phase) heart rates. A significant difference
was found between the two conditions at the point of transition
(t(9) = 3.25, p = 0.01), however, by the end of the refocusing
phase there was no significant difference between the conditions.
The nature of this difference in the recovery mechanisms can be
seen in Figure 4 where differences
in heart rate between the conditions are evident at the transition
point of the recovery.
aim of the present study was to examine the effects of short-term
passive and active recoveries on lactate concentrations, RPE and
heart rate response. The research was also designed to assess the
impact on heart rate response of a passive refocusing phase following
the active recovery phase. The refocusing or preparation phase was
included to simulate the practicalities of taking part in repeat
short duration high intensity exercise such as sport climbing.
In this study mean lactate concentrations were between 0.9 and 1.2
mmol·1-1 lower for the active recovery group for each
of the five climbing trials. The walking based active recovery resulted
in significantly lower lactate levels than the passive recovery.
This finding is in agreement with research dating back over thirty
years that has shown active recovery to aid the removal of lactate
after short duration intensive exercise (Ahmaidi et al., 1996;
Belcastro and Bonen, 1975;
Corder et al., 2000;
Hermansen and Stensvold, 1972;
Stamford et al., 1981).
In addition, the continued effectiveness of the active recovery
protocol to reduce lactate concentrations for subsequent exercise
trials in the present study is in agreement with the work of Ahmaidi
et al. (1996)
and Corder et al.(2000)
Bangsbo et al. (1994)
and Connolly et al. (2003),
however, found no significant difference in lactate concentrations
between passive and active short-term
(less than or up to three minutes) recoveries.The differences in
findings may relate to the active recovery strategy employed. In
previous studies, such as those by Bangsbo et al., 1994
and Connolly et al., 2003,
the exercise and recovery protocol have employed the same exercise
medium (cycle ergometry). In rock climbing the main muscle groups
responsible for producing lactate are found in the forearms and
upper body (Booth et al., 1999
and Mermier et al., 1997).
Therefore, in the present study, the muscle groups responsible for
the net production of lactate during the short-term high intensity
exercise trial (forearms and upper body) differed from those used
to remove the lactate during the active walking recovery (legs).
Additionally, the change in exercise medium for the recovery meant
that there was an increased muscle mass involved in lactate clearance.
Understanding of the exact mechanism through which lactate is more
effectively removed during active recovery continues to be refined
(Corder et al., 2000;
Ahmaidi et al., 1996).
However, one common finding during active recovery, as found in
this study, is an increased heart rate response, leading to an increased
blood flow to the working muscle during the recovery interval (Ahmaidi
et al., 1996;
Belcastro and Bonen, 1975;
Bogdanis et al., 1996).
The increased blood flow is believed to enhance the removal of lactic
acid from the exercising muscle cells allowing a faster redistribution
to alternative metabolism sites such as the liver, heart and non-working
muscles (Ahmaidi et al., 1996;
Belcastro and Bonen, 1975;
Bogdanis et al., 1996;
Corder et al., 2000).
A significant difference between recovery protocols was found for
RPE. The active recovery provided climbers with a perception of
lesser effort during each subsequent climbing trial. Although when
originally developed RPE was based on heart rate response during
exercise it has also been found to be a conscious rating of effort
and as such is perhaps a useful indicator of central fatigue) (Robergs
and Roberts, 1997).
Lactate concentration analysis, on the other hand, perhaps provides
a mechanism for indicating physical fatigue within the peripheral
muscles. Thus the results of this study indicate that active recovery
appears to have a significant impact on reducing peripheral (lactate)
and central fatigue (RPE).
The heart rate responses during climbing differed by three or fewer
beats per minute between each of the climbing trials for passive
and active recovery strategies. There were no significant differences
between passive and active recovery conditions for any of the five
climbing trials. This would suggest that work intensity was closely
matched for both conditions. There was, however, a rise in heart
rate during exercise for active and passive conditions across the
five climbing trials. This finding, when taken with similar and
significant rises with successive climbing trials for lactate concentrations
and RPE scores, is indicative of incomplete recovery. The three
and a half minutes recovery allowed following short-term high intensity
exercise was not sufficient for a complete recovery between trials.
This was the case for the passive and active recovery protocols
and is in agreement with the findings of Ahmaidi et al., 1996
and Connolly et al., 2003.
A longer recovery period would be necessary to maintain exercise
responses, however, in a practical sports training or performance
setting this might not be possible. As a consequence, an active
recovery strategy would be the preferred method where repeat performance
The use of a split (active/passive refocusing or passive/passive
refocusing) phase recovery had a significant effect on the heart
rate response of climbers between conditions. Although heart rate
responses were significantly higher following the active phase of
the recovery (after two minutes of recovery), in agreement with
the findings of Ahmaidi et al., 1996
and Bogdanis et al., 1996,
by the end of the refocusing period (after three and a half minutes
of recovery) there was a non-significant difference between the
recovery conditions. In fact, as can be seen in Table
3, by the end of the recovery for all but the first climbing
trial the mean heart rates were lower for the active than for the
passive recovery strategy, perhaps suggesting a more complete recovery
prior to commencing the next climbing trial.
results of the present study suggest there are benefits to using a
short duration active recovery for both lactate clearance and RPE
on subsequent exercise trials. The study appears to have created a
practical strategy that could be employed by sport climbers and boulderers
to possibly combat the effects of central and peripheral fatigue.
For the sport of rock climbing, where the forearm muscles may represent
the net producers of lactate and the lower limbs a major tissue for
lactate removal, the use of a walking active recovery may be beneficial
to subsequent climbing trials. The use of alternative skeletal muscle
groups for lactate clearance as discussed by Van Hall and colleagues
requires further investigation. In addition, future research to examine
the benefits of a refocusing period following an active recovery may
be useful in an applied sports context.
three and half minute recovery strategy employed in this study
did not allow sufficient time for complete recovery for either
the active or passive conditions.
active condition appeared to allow for a more complete recovery
after each climbing trial than did the passive recovery.
concentrations and RPE were lower for the active recovery.
use of larger and or alternative muscle groups in the active recovery
may benefit lactate clearance.
use of a refocusing passive phase at the end of the active recovery
may provide a useful and more ecologically valid mechanism for
recovery in an applied sporting context.
Employment: Senior Lecturer, Centre for Adventure Science
Research (CASR), University of Chichester, UK.
Degree: Ph.D., M.A., B.Ed.(Hons).
Research interests: Adventure Physiology - physiological
response to environmental and exercise demands in adventure
Employment: Postgraduate Research at CASR, University of
Chichester, UK, Lecturer in Adventure Education at Southdowns
College, Portsmouth, UK.
Research interests: The physiology of rock climbing and
Employment: Senior Lecturer, University of Chichester, UK.
Research interests: Human performance and pedagogy in
kayaking and climbing.
Employment: Senior Lecturer, CASR, University of Chichester,
Degree: M.Sc., B.A.(Hons).
Research interests: Senior Learning and performing in
complex and challenging environments and how we can improve
performance during environmentally induced stress.