Swimming for runners

So the title of this post might sound a bit strange to some of you as it seems quite contradictory. If you’re a runner, just run, right? Wrong. So, so wrong (at least in my opinion!). Now as I’ve said 198476328 times, I’m not a coach or qualified anything, so this is all based on personal research and experience. However, I’m not coming up with anything radical – swimming as a supplementary form of training for runners dates back a looong way. And I’ve definitely noticed the benefits in my running performance.


Since my physio recommended that I scaled my running back to 3-4 times a week (shin splint perks), I’ve been trying out various forms of non-impact training. When someone mentioned swimming, I immediately thought no. I hadn’t swam since compulsory swimming in PE lessons at prep school. Fun fact: I was the second to last person in my year in reception to progress to their blue hat. A blue hat meant you could swim. So yeah, I wasn’t a natural “water baby”. Anyway, life-story aside, I eventually decided to hit up the (public) pool and give it a go. Even if you don’t suffer from a recurrent injury like shin splints, swimming is a fantastic way of reducing the general wear-and-tear us runners place on our bodies.

Photo credit: www.simplyswim.com

aerobic advantages

I really do think swimming is what got me through last track season. My shins were at their worst, and training was nearly impossible, however through swimming twice a week I managed to take 18s off my 1500m PB. Swimming forces your body into a state of oxygen deprivation, making your cardiovascular system more efficient. Plus, the fact that the water provides resistance when breathing out means that your heart and lungs generally have to work harder. I’m no biologist, but this is what I’ve understood from my online research.

different muscle groups

Swimming is a full-body workout, and depending on what strokes you do you can target specific muscles. The more muscles you train, and the more ways you train them, the stronger you’ll be as an athlete. I remember the evening after my first swim, my legs felt completely and utterly dead. I’d never worked my leg muscles in that way before, and the proof was in the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Remember, as you get stronger these don’t get as bad! I’m definitely guilty of only doing front-crawl and breaststroke, but I want to branch out to mix it up even more.

active recovery

Unlike running, swimming is one of those sports that you can train hard at and not feel completely dead the next day. I’m sure if any swimmers are reading this they’ll shut me down, but unless you’re doing a crazy “swimmer” swim session (aka 5km or so of training in a row), then you should be fine. I love swimming on the days between my track sessions as I can get a fab workout in without it negatively impacting my training the next day. Win win if you ask me.

Photo credit: www.simplyswim.com

mental health

This isn’t necessarily runner-specific, but swimming is great for your mental health. Whilst you might have the occasional stressful/ unpleasant swim (especially at public pools), swimming really lets you switch off from the rest of the world. Submerging your head underwater literally keeps you in your own little bubble, and this blocks out other sounds which enables you to focus on yourself. I always feel 100x better after a swim, even if I’m dreading it beforehand!

session ideas

It can be daunting going into the pool the first time and not knowing what to do. I’ve included a few example sessions for you to try out below (made by me – they could be awful but I like them). I also recommend trying Swimfit session cards which are by the side of lots of public pools (recommended to me by Ellen from TeenRunner). As a general rule, I read somewhere that if you multiply the distance you swim by 4, that roughly equates to its running equivalent. So swimming 2km ≈ running 8km. However, the first few times you go just concentrate on how you feel, getting back into it, practising technique etc before you start to worry about distance & time.

pre-session fuel? Sorry for the lack of my own photos, I don’t tend to get any when I go swimming…

  • 10 length warm up, alternating between your two favourite strokes
  • 3x [5 lengths of kicking, holding a float; rest 30s after each set]
  • 3x [arm pulling, float between legs; rest 30s after each set]
  • 5x [2 lengths front crawl, holding your breath for 5 arm strokes; rest 15s after each set]
  • 10 length cool down

Total: 60 lengths// 1.5km (based off a 25m pool)

  • 20 length warm up, swapping strokes every 4 lengths
  • 8 lengths of kicking, holding a foat; rest 30s after
  • 8 lengths of arm pulling, float between legs; rest 30s after
  • 4x [8 lengths front crawl, holding breath for 5 arm strokes; rest 30s after each set]
  • Descending sprint pyramid: 6 lengths, 4 lengths, 2 lengths, 2x 1 length, getting faster each time; rest 15s between each set
  • 8 length cool down

Total: 90 lengths// 2.25km

I hope you’ve found this post interesting and useful, and if you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them!

Emma ♥♥