(Related podcast: Mojo for Running #109 Swimming as Cross-Training for Running)
Swimming is excellent cross-training for runners. I’ll explain how it is beneficial, and I hope, by the time you read this, you’ll be convinced that you need to be swimming if you aren’t already.
I admit, I’m kind of partial to swimming because I grew up on a swim team, because I used to be a swim coach, and because it’s upper body intensive, which makes it much different from biking, my other favorite type of cardio cross-training for runners.
I joined a swim team when I was 12 and swam right through high school. My younger brothers also later joined the swim team. So, I experienced, first-hand, many benefits. Now, after almost 40 years of running, I am convinced of the many benefits of swimming for runners.
Let’s look at the various benefits of swimming for runners:
- While the water certainly provides resistance, there’s no pounding, nothing to be hard on any of your joints. In that sense, it just may be the ideal form of exercise. After all, swimming is the exercise doctors prescribe for all other athletes when they’re recovering from injury.
- It works every muscle, something few sports do, and it tends to work them in a greater range of motion, especially if you practice all the strokes.
- Because you can’t breathe whenever you want, it really develops your lungs. There is no other exercise that restricts your breathing. Think about that for a minute. When you’re swimming, you can never huff and puff. This makes it much more intense for your cardiorespiratory system.
- It provides a great way to strengthen the ankles while improving flexibility.
- It’s a great upper body workout, which running and biking are not.
- It’s the perfect activity on a hot day. Of course, you have to have access to a pool, but almost every community has public swimming pools that charge a very nominal fee. It’s usually about the same as a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
- After a run, it’s helpful in relaxing muscles, reducing inflammation. It is an ideal recovery activity because it’s upper body intensive, and the cool water reduces inflammation.
- Swimming offers the opportunity for great variety. There are many more ways to add variety to a swimming workout than there are to add variety to a running workout because you have many more options. You can do many different strokes; so, just changing strokes adds variety; you can do different distances of swims, just the same as in running; you can work on drills, do specific workouts to work on breath control, kick only sets using all the different kick strokes, arm only sets using the different strokes, swim some of the workout fins, swim underwater, and more. So, even if you were to train swimming seven days a week, each workout could be much different from the others.
That’s a lot of benefit, and I could go on and on about each, but taken together, honestly, that’s seems pretty compelling to me; I really strongly believe every runner should swim.