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Swimming: excellent cross-training for runners

Next time you've got cross-training on your schedule, hit your local pool for some laps

Young Woman Swimming in a Pool Underwater
If you’re looking for a new cross-training activity, you should consider heading to the pool for a swim. Swimming is a great workout with next to no impact (other than when you push off the wall), making it a perfect exercise for runners. You might only ever go in the water for pool running, but switch things up by ditching the flotation belt, grabbing some goggles and moving over to the fast lane to swim a few laps instead.
No matter which stroke you choose, you’ll be in for a full-body exercise, which may be foreign to a lot of runners, making it all the more valuable. As runners, we’re used to tired legs after a hard run, but swimming engages everything, including your arms, core, back and legs. Plus, it’s a killer cardiovascular workout, which will help with your running fitness.

Different strokes

There are four main strokes to choose from: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. Freestyle, AKA front crawl, is one of the easier strokes to grasp, and if you’ve ever swum before, you’ve probably given this a try, pinwheeling your arms in and out of the water to pull yourself forward while flutter-kicking to provide an extra push from behind. This is the go-to stroke for most triathletes, so it could be a good oneto try. 
Backstroke has a similar motion to freestyle, but (obviously) on your back. For most people, breaststroke and butterfly are more difficult to reproduce than freestyle or backstroke, as they are more reliant on proper technique and timing.

Free and back also require a lot of technique, of course, but you can power your way through them and still have a decent workout. If you don’t get the technique and timing down with breast and fly, you’re likely to do a lot more aimless flailing and splashing than actual swimming. You’ll still have to work hard, and you’ll probably be pretty tired by the end of the swim, but you won’t get too many laps in. 

The workout

Here’s a workout to help you get your swimming cross training career started. Feel free to use any stroke you prefer, or you can mix it up and try them all out. As for the effort level, unless specified as easy or fast, you should swim at a comfortably-uncomfortable pace—not so fast that you run out of energy, but not too slow so that it’s easy. 


200m easy swimming 
100m easy kick
Main Set: 
4x25m (15 seconds rest)
50m easy
4x50m (20 seconds rest) 
50m easy
4x100m (30 seconds rest) 
50m easy 
4x50m fast (30 seconds rest)
50m easy
4×25 fast (30 seconds rest) 
Cool down: 
200m easy swimming
Total Distance: 1700m 
Optional Bonus: For fun, if you didn’t opt to do butterfly during the workout, finish things off by trying it out. See how far you can get before you have to stop. 

You don’t have to be a swimmer or triathlete to swim. It will be tough at first, and your technique won’t be the prettiest, but give yourself permission to suck for a bit while you learn. If you add some off-day cross training at the pool to your regular schedule, you’ll see the fitness benefits in no time. And who knows, you might actually like it.