Swimming is not only a great exercise for injured runners but it also strengthens healthy bodies. Do you want to know why swim training is the perfect holiday workout? These are the most important benefits of swimming, which can significantly boost your running performance.
Are you going on holidays soon? It doesn’t really matter if you you’re headed for an inner city hotel or beachside retreat, this presents you with a dilemma – how will you stay fit on vacation? After all, it seems such a shame to let your hard-won endurance whittle away while you relax at a pool. But holidays aren’t just a chance to relax and unwind – often, the best way to recharge is to get moving, especially if a normal working day means sitting at the desk for seven hours.
Around 50% of Brits are now looking to active holidays as a way of improving their fitness during their downtime, and keeping fit on vacation is important to a whopping 82% of Brits. Anecdotal evidence shows that a lot of runners struggle to muster the energy to continue training hard while on their holidays. The solution? Swap dry land sessions for water workouts.
Holidays offer the ideal opportunity to switch up your routine, and swimming is one of the best vacation training options. For most people it’s nice to mix up training and do a bit of swimming. Swimming alone will give you time to get into the right headspace. You’ll have time to think, find a rhythm and relax.
But how does swimming improve running ability?
Swimming offers the body a chance to move differently as usual, strengthening weak muscles, lengthening tight tissue and helping to improve running efficiency. Running and swimming are both great types of cardiovascular exercise.
Swimming helps to increase your lung capacity, build strength, enhance endurance, and aid recovery without putting high-impact pressure on the body. It’s also beneficial to be in a lateral position, rather than the upright running stance, as this boosts blood flow back to the heart.
Swimming balances your body and improves ankle mobility
One of swimming’s most important contributions to running lies in its ability to balance your body. The repetitive nature of running leads to that striders create tension in the same areas again and again, and this can result in muscle imbalances. When swimming, you use different movement patterns that stretch out tight tissue and strengthen muscle groups that get forgotten during running sessions.
What is more, swimming can improve a runner’s flexibility, especially ankles. Runners often have very tight ankles but swimming strengthens the ligaments and tendons in the ankle area, and so improves ankle mobility.
Research has linked poor ankle mobility to tight calf muscles and a greater amount of rear foot pronation, which, in excess, can result in foot, lower leg and knee injuries. Fortunately, swimming can help significantly. But don’t just swim one stroke up and down the pool – take time to do a few swimming drills. Swimming provides great versatility, allowing you to strengthen weaker muscles, or rest tired areas, through targeted training.
Do you want to work your legs?
Different swimming drills and strokes use various kicking patterns that work different parts of the leg muscles. Front crawl, for instance, focuses mainly on the quadriceps muscles, while backstroke targets more the hamstring group. Breaststroke kick uses similar muscles to front crawl but also works the adductor and abductor (inner and outer thigh) area.
Isolating the lower body muscles by doing breaststroke legs will help increase the range of movement in your hips, strengthening muscles around the hips and minimizing your risk of a running injury. The front crawl kick movement will also loosen the ankle joints, and using fins will further increase the range of movement within the ankle area.
Still, if you want to rest your legs completely, a pull buoy is a great tool that you put between your legs to keep your body buoyant while you do arms-only work. Swimming is a very technical exercise and it really makes you think about your form.
This goes well with running because it makes you more aware of your technique when you head out on the roads. Suddenly, you’ll be more aware of your body and how it moves. And you’ll realize that if you do that, you’ll run faster, or if you do this, your training will be more efficient.
Increases your lung power
As a cardiovascular exercise, it goes without saying that swimming is a huge plus to your aerobic fitness. But pool paddling has a lung-boosting secret: It forces your body to process oxygen more efficiently. Being face down in the water enhances your lungs’ ability to deliver oxygen around the body. According to studies, at peak fitness, swimmers’ lungs use oxygen three times more efficiently than those of an average person. Wow.
Breathing is one of the most important elements in swimming. An appropriate breathing rhythm is crucial to good body position in the water and that translates nicely to breath control when running. Experts emphasize that breathing bilaterally (on each side: often every third stroke) is a vital skill to master. Most of us have a dominant side – the side that you turn to take a breath – and breathing only on this side can result in an unbalanced stroke. Bilateral breathing will prevent your strong side from overcompensating and not only will this make it easier to swim in a straight line, but it will also bring muscular balance back to your body. Perfect.
Swim as you would run
Swimming won’t only boost your breathing, but it will also enable you to train both aerobically and anaerobically – and, in this respect, it’s very similar to running.
It may be a good idea to mimic your running endurance training in the pool. Do sets of 100m or time your efforts in the pool just as you would when running.
Experts argue that swimming isn’t given the respect it deserves. Paddling up and down the lane might seem dull, but it can in fact be one of the best ways to boost your mental capacity for running – particularly if you head out into the sea to battle against the tide.
The mental skills involved in open water swimming are similar to those in running. You have to know when to dig deep, what’s happening with your body and what you’ve got left to swim hard against the tide. One thing that we teach people out in the sea is to do hard bursts of swimming for 100m. You can do this in the pool and it represents the effort you’ll have to put in to swim against the current. It’s very similar to running uphill, when you even have to change your stroke in the same way that you change your stride pattern when you run uphill and downhill. So, swimming really has a lot to offer to a runner, probably even more than you thought.
Its biggest allure?
Swimming is similar to running in terms of the relationship athlete versus nature. Swim in the sea and you need a bit more than your swimming togs to get going. There are in fact few sports that have the closeness with nature that running and swimming do offer. Also this makes swimming such a great sport.
Top tips to improve your swimming sessions:
ADD SPRINTS: Make your next swim tougher by adding some sprints to the mix. Try completing six to eight 150m repetitions and swim the first 50m at an easy pace, the second 50m at a steady pace and the third 50m as fast as you can.
- LONGER SWIMS: Just as you do a long run every week, you should also aim to boost the amount of time you can spend swimming in the pool. Start with a 400m warm-up and finish with a 400m cool-down, and then try to swim for 40 minutes in between.
- GO POOL RUNNING: Pool running is a great cross training activity for striders. Put on an aqua belt and hit the pool to run up and down the lengths. You can mimic the running sessions that you would do on land. For instance, two minutes swimming at a hard pace followed by one minute at an easy pace.
- DO SOME DRILLS: To enhance your technique, try doing a few drills. The Internet is a great source of swimming drill ideas if you are new to this. Here are some of our favourites – the single-arm drill, the catch-up drill and 616 (swim on your side, do six kicks, swim one stroke to rotate to the other side, and then do six kicks). Check them in the Internet.
SWIMMING SESSIONS FOR RUNNERS
Want to add intensity to your next swim? Try this…
SPRINTS: Go faster by doing 50m of front crawl as fast as you can, then take a 30-second break before going again. Perform 10 sets.
ENDURANCE: Boost your stamina by swimming four 100m laps at a slow but consistent pace using the front crawl stroke. Take a 30-second break between each set.
STRENGTH: Buy a kickboard and hold it lengthways in your hands when in the water. Kick your legs out behind you to power up the pool. DO four lengths of leg kicking every session.