Swimming for runners

Find out how swimming can benefit runners.

Think of the two ‘F’s when it comes to swimming. Improved fitness and flexibility will be your reward if you hit the pool, plus some additional strength, courtesy of the full body workout that swimming provides. And if you’re looking for an upper body workout to leave you ripped in the bicep department, then you might just learn to love the water with a new passion.  

Low impact

You burn calories and body fat in the pool, without the stress of impact absorption. It is non weight-bearing, so your feet and legs can take a well earned rest. When you’re splashing up and down the lanes you’re using muscles that running doesn’t tend to rely on, while resting the ones that runners do use a lot. You can also use swimming to build strength in your body without adding bulk. Runners and swimmers need a similar type of body structure to be successful, especially at elite level. So if you do both activities, a lean, honed physique, without too much extra weight, can be the net result.

Upper body workout

Most runners would be the first to admit that their upper bodies are nothing like as toned as their lower half. But swimming can rectify that imbalance. You can concentrate on building up power in your arms, shoulder, chest and neck, whilst also giving your lower body a solid workout. Yes swimming can be a little on the repetitive side, but the increase in muscle strength in your arms is significant. Your arms drive your legs on runs and if your arm muscles are strong, it will help drive you on, whilst also maintaining good technique and running form when you’re tired.

Recovery

A Study at the University of Western Australia showed that athletes who put in two intense interval training sessions, running at their maximum capacity, followed by a 1.2 mile (2km) swim 10 hours later, were 14% faster on their next run. The swim had provided a very successful active recovery. The runners were also found to have lower levels of c-reactive protein in their systems, which is a marker of muscle inflammation. This is definitely worth thinking about. If you’re training for a marathon and putting in the miles, you might need a change of scene for one thing, but also to give your legs a rest and do something different yet aerobically challenging.    

Rehabilitation

Injured runners hit the pool to start building their fitness levels after a long lay-off. It’s a good way of getting the body moving again without any weight-bearing stress, or indeed keeping your fitness levels high while you wait for the green light to run again.

Resistance

Think of swimming as a form of resistance training, but without weights. You constantly have to move the water out of the way to swim through it, so if you spend an hour doing that, you will definitely feel it. Your body genuinely aches after a long swim, because you’ve given it a tough cardio and aerobic workout.

Breathing

There are some parallels between the rhythmic breathing patterns required for swimming and running. If you swim long distance with a good technique, your breathing patterns should be regular and rhythmic and this will transfer back across to your running with greater efficiency.

Flexibility

A runner who swims will be more flexible. It’s a simple equation because of the mass of different muscle groups that are regularly used and extended. Greater flexibility means muscles can be pushed further without stress and that can help prevent injuries, as well as adding strength and power. If your swimming technique is good, especially kicking, your ankles will become more flexible, with the ligaments and tendons around the ankle benefitting the most.

Calm

There is nothing like the peace and quiet that comes with immersing yourself in water. The feeling of weightlessness and tranquility can be pleasantly overwhelming, especially after a hard day at the office. A run can be relaxing in slightly different ways, but a swim can really clear the mind and re-invigorate the senses.

Different strokes

Remember that different strokes work different parts of the body, so if you are prone to groin issues, a vigorous breaststroke might not be ideal for you. The backstroke works your hamstrings, which again, might need a little rest after a long run. Butterfly will attack your chest and shoulders, while front crawl gives your neck, shoulders, chest and arms a workout. Try to vary your strokes when you swim, so you don’t over-stress one part of your body.

Distance

If you are keen to get a workout in the water that is the equivalent of what you would be doing on the road, you only need to swim about a quarter as far as you might run. So you could replace a 4 mile (6.8 km) run with a one mile (1.6 km) swim.

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