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The runner’s guide to swimming for cross training

Swimming for cross-training

It’s no secret that swimming for cross-training is a smart idea—it’s a low-impact, full-body cardio workout that is fairly accessible. Yet, many runners that don’t have a background in competitive swimming, be it from their youth or a tendency to dabble in triathlon, often find the pool intimidating. It doesn’t have to be.

RELATED: Utilizing the elliptical to maximize training benefits.

This guide is meant to mitigate the common fears.

“My technique isn’t good enough”

This is a common and understandable concern for most runners. Poor form in the pool can lead to some – ahem – “flailing,” shall we call it. That means more energy displacing water from the pool than strengthening muscles in a meaningful way. But, you’d be surprised how simple it can be to improve your form.

1) Turn your arms into shark fins

That’s right, pretend you’re Jaws and keep those elbows pointed high up to the ceiling. Not only is this fun (oh come on, sharks are definitely not only cool to kids), it also prevents the floppy-arm front crawl that is characteristic of those unaccustomed to swimming laps.

2) Turn your hands into paddles

Your stroke will be much stronger if you keep your fingers glued together when pulling through the water, rather than letting them separate. The difference is like rowing a boat with an oar versus a mop.

3) Your kick doesn’t start with your knees

What’s the logical extension of the arm flail? The foot flail, of course. Many rookie swimmers will start their kick at their knees, which means a lot of splash and not a lot of forward momentum. In reality, your kick should start with your glutes and your legs should be engaged from there down.

swim cap and goggles“I’m slow”

It can be easy to assume that if you can’t move your body as fast swimming as you can running, that you won’t be getting as good of a workout. Everyone is slow when they start out, but cardiovascular fitness from running means that most runners are able to jump into swimming with a decent head start on others. Try not to think of swimming in terms of speed, but rather effort put in. Plus, you may be slow because you’re using muscles that you don’t normally use—which, in the long run (or in this case, I guess I should say, long swim) will help you out when it comes to running fitness.

“I don’t know how to structure a swimming workout”

I find this to be the most prevalent reason that runners skip the pool for cross-training. While it is easy to convert a running workout onto a stationary bike or elliptical, it isn’t as easy to transfer a workout into the pool. Many runners also may not be familiar with the pace clocks used on pool decks, or are swimming in a busy public pool that makes using a pace clock tricky. In these cases, it’s easiest to structure workouts off of effort and to take the same amount of rest each time, rather try to achieve a specific pace.

RELATED: Cross train to supplement your running.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Sample set 1: tempo swimming

10 laps at an easy pace to warm up

4 x 4 laps with 20 seconds of rest in between (swim these at what you would think of as a tempo pace—strong and smooth, but not as fast as you can)

8 laps of pull

4 x 4 laps with 15 seconds rest, again at tempo pace

8 laps of pull

10 laps easy cool down

Total: 1.6K

Sample set 2: speed work

10 laps easy warm up

5 x 2 laps, sprint the first lap, swim slow the second, with 20 seconds rest

8 easy laps

5 x 2 laps kick, sprint the first, recover the second, with 15 seconds rest

8 easy laps

5 x 2 laps pull, strong on the first, recover the second, with 20 seconds rest

10 laps cool down

Total: 1.65K