Training

Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

Swimming isn’t just fun—it should become the integrated training method you use to improve your performance—especially when it’s hot and running is the last thing you want to do!

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Sep 27, 2016
Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

We’re not suggesting running your circuit in a Speedo or bikini, nor do we advise removing other cross-training sports from your schedule. But you’re busy and have a finite amount of time to get in the exercises necessary to get your body in shape for running and you could be surprised to find that swimming is so dynamic, it could literally replace a few other conditioning exercises you currently undertake.

Of course, now that Joseph Schooling has taken that historic gold medal for Singapore at the 2016 Rio Olympics, you may see the sport as being a cut above the average cross-training options, so if you love the feel of the water around you — especially on a hot, sticky Singapore day — swimming could win a corner of your heart, if only for the sheer joy one feels skimming across the water without the constraints of gravity that keep you from flying when you run!

How Swimming Helps Runners

According to a study published by the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness,” you would be hard pressed to find a whole-body exercise that surpasses the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and zero-impact benefits one gets from this simple, natural aquatic exercise.

Some runners have found that an hour of swimming laps and “aqua running” delivers the same benefits as spending an hour on a track or road, but that surface workout can’t begin to offer you protections known to cut back on types of injuries runners tend to develop from jogging on hard surfaces.

If you suffer leg injuries as a result of your running activities, pool-related exercises are kinder and gentler and if you are lucky enough to have access to an aquatic treadmill, you’re going to be the envy of your running buddies!

Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

Photo Credit: 123RF

As a matter of fact, when researchers at California State University Northridge campus compared cool-down statistics between pool and treadmill runners, there was no difference in the aerobic capacity values (VO2) measured in both groups, so your body benefits equally.

4 Pool Workouts For Runners

  1. Swim laps
    Even if you’re exhausted from a crazy day and your fatigue level is high, just jumping into the pool is going to bring you back to life. Swim laps to use different muscle groups, and if you add variety to your stroke menu by interchanging backstrokes, breaststrokes and freestyle moves, you might be surprised to see how many you can do as you switch up those styles. Looking for a goal? Aim for 10 laps (back and forth equals a lap) to log a bit more than a quarter mile of exercise if the pool is of regulation size.
  2. Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

    Photo Credit: 123RF

  3. Water runs
    Of course you can run in the water — all you need is a flotation belt or another type of swim aid to keep your body buoyant as you run across your pool’s expanse. This exercise will take some getting used to, because this sounds a lot easier to accomplish than it happens to be. With an erect body, lean slightly forward, focus on a point at the end of the pool and emulate the way you run on land. To access more muscles, try a few variations like bending your knees slightly, march, or pretend you’re cross-country skiing across the pool.
  4. Body stretches
    University of California Track and Field Coach John Rembao compels his running team members to hit the water daily to stretch and strengthen their bodies at the deep end of the school pool. His instruction to them is to face the wall, grip the edge of the pool with one hand and swing the alternate leg back and forth at least 10 times before switching hands and legs. Follow up with hamstring and quad stretches. Your objective is to condition your legs until each is so strong, your feet break the surface water.
  5. Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

    Photo Credit: 123RF

  6. Pool sprints
    Think laps on steroids! Pool sprints aren’t much different from the ones you do on land except you will be required to surge at intervals and insert 30-seconds of recovery time between each sprint. According to Sandy Bikus, a certified triathlon coach and personal trainer, if you keep focusing on your sprint form and increase the number of intervals you achieve, you can’t help but notice how much stronger you perform on land.

4 Ways Your Body Improves From Swim Training

You’ve got the moves — and maybe a few others if you’ve done more research on how swimming enhances and improves runner performance — and you’re convinced that by adding swimming to your programme, it can help you run longer and more efficiently, but specifically, how does your entire body improve?

  1. Improve your overall balance so you run more confidently as you control your stride. Says Michael Collins, United States Masters Swimming coach, “Just as upper-body strength helps cyclists control their bikes better, [improved balance] helps runners control their stride.”
  2. Expect to become more flexible because without the constraints of gravity, your legs are going to experience a change in the way the tendons and ligaments react to working out in water so you’ll feel a difference everywhere from your hip flexors down to your ankles.
  3. Why Runners Seeking the Ideal Cross-training Sport Should Try Swimming

    Photo Credit: 123RF

  4. As you increase your prowess in the water, you can’t help but get into the habit of breathing rhythmically as you swim, developing what swimming coaches call “breath control-oriented” respiration patterns. This physicality has the ability to impact running efficiency on multiple levels once your body becomes accustomed to breathing this way.
  5. Given improved balance, flexibility and enhanced breathing, your pace is likely to improve. It doesn’t matter whether the objective of your pool time is to perform better during endurance or sprint events, the physical and mental habits developed in the pool tend to transfer effortlessly to your event of choice, and this includes ultras, where every advantage you gain may mean the difference between a great finish and one you'd rather forget!

Have you taken up swimming to enhance your running ability? What changes did you experience from adding this gravity-free workout to your cross-training mix?

Aidan is the Editor-in-chief of RunSociety. As a health improvement hacker and explorer, he oversees RunSociety’s Creativity Channel, spanning a wide range of inspirational and enriching topics daily to the running community. Get in touch with him if you have any fresh ideas!

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