Why all runners should be swimming
The benefits of swimming as a cross-training activity
Whether you’re a competitive runner training for a race, run for weight-loss reasons or as a weekend hobby, swimming is the perfect complement. A high-impact sport, running puts a huge amount of pressure on the joints, which can sometimes lead to injury – particularly if you’re running every day. Swimming, on the other hand, is a zero-impact sport, making it a great aerobic workout to carry out in-between your runs to maintain cardiovascular fitness, while giving your joints the chance to recover. Alongside injury prevention, swimming is a great way to burn calories, improve strength and also enhance flexibility. Here are some of the benefits explained.
A good aerobic workout
Swimming is a great way to improve your heart health. Calling upon every major muscle group in the body, swimming requires the heart to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. Swimming also forces your body into an oxygen-deprived state, enhancing your cardiorespiratory system. “You only get to breathe at certain times,” explains swimming coach and co-founder of Swim For Tri Keeley Bullock (swimfortri.co.uk). “The fact that breathing out into the water can be harder then breathing out into the air requires more effort,” Keeley explains.
Swimming offers a full-body workout, involving the arms, legs, back, shoulders and core. Moving through an environment nearly 1,000 times denser than air, swimming provides a resistance workout for your entire body. Resistance training has a stimulating affect on your metabolism after your workout, meaning that you’ll not only burn hundreds of calories as you swim, but also in the hours afterwards.
Builds strength in key muscle groups
Each swimming stroke works different muscle groups – all of which are beneficial to running. One particular area that is worked in front crawl, for example, is the glutes. The cause of many running injuries is ‘lazy’ glutes, commonly caused by a failure to use this muscle group properly for a long period of time. “A correct front crawl leg kick utilises the glutes,” says Keeley. Be warned, though, many runners will try to kick from the knees when they first swim – so learn to kick properly, with almost straight legs moving from the hips. Perfecting this motion is a great way to activate and strengthen this neglected muscle which, in turn, leads to increased running power and decreased risk of injury.
A high-impact sport, running places strain on the joints, often leading to injury when running too frequently. Offering a zero-impact workout, swimming is a great way to exercise, while allowing your joints to recover on your running rest days. Likewise, if you’re recovering from injury and have been advised not to run, swimming is a great way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness without exacerbating certain injuries. Since switching to triathlon in 2009, former GB runner Vicky Gill now swims three to four times per week and talks favourably about the extra cardio sessions swimming provides with low-impact stresses.
However, make sure you go for some swimming lessons early on to improve your technique, as the shoulders can be vulnerable to strains if you swim with poor form.
The movement employed when swimming continually lengthens the muscles, particularly when reaching streamlined positions. “Triathletes report back to me that swimming is a great way to stretch out tired and aching muscles after hard bike and run sessions,” explains swimming coach Keeley Bullock. “Many swimmers also supplement their training with Pilates and yoga to accelerate improved movements in the water.”
How to get started
It may have been many years since you took a dip in your local pool, so you may feel a little apprehensive. Check out the timetable at your local swimming pool and scout out the specific lane-swimming hours to avoid the pool being over crowded (and filled with children)! If you’re feeling a little under confident, opt for the slow lane while you remind yourself of the different strokes. Whether you’re a frequent swimmer or have not swam properly since your school years, Keeley would recommend that all runners looking to take up swimming as a cross-training activity take lessons. “Most struggle with breathing when it comes to swimming. There are limited opportunities to inhale during swimming, making it harder early on until the stroke mechanics are improved. Poor swimming technique can quickly tire you for the wrong reasons, so some lessons would be advised to get the best use of your time in the water.”