Just because you enjoy running doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of other sports. The impact on your joints while running is hard. You’re constantly subjecting your ankles, knees and other parts of your body to the shock from the ground. It’s important to find a sport that is less impactful to help you unwind and ease some of the pain you may feel.
This is where swimming comes into play. It’s one of the most relaxing but effective sports. You can work on every muscle in the body and get a cardio workout at the same time.
When you swim, you will improve your stamina and speed. It’s also possible to build on your strength and toning, which will both help to make you faster at running. You just need to do the right swimming exercises to gain maximum results. While swimming lengths will help, focus on these ultimate exercises to help improve your running capabilities.
Swim on Your Recovery Day
Instead of doing a recovery run on your rest day, opt for a stint in the pool. You will help to stretch out the muscles, relieve the stress, and build on the muscles at the same time. Swimming is considered an easier workout because you don’t feel yourself doing it. The water makes you weightless, which can take some of the feeling of the muscles working.
Of course, the water around you also masks the fact that you do sweat in the pool. Make sure you take a bottle of water to have on the side.
On your recovery day, you may want just to swim lengths. Don’t treat it like a holiday float. Move your body up and down the pull, working on individual muscle groups to relax and stretch them at the same time.
You don’t just have to opt for swimming on your recovery day. You can replace one of your training days for a bout with the pool. Opt for a day when you have one of your shorter runs at first, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the workout.
It’s important to work on the breathing timing. Many swimmers will opt to breathe just on one side of their body, but you want to practice breathing on the other side. You’ll get the choice to breathe every two, three, or four strokes then. Start breathing every four and then reduce a number of strokes you do before breathing as you need to breathe faster.
Now it’s time to get the best exercises to make your recovery and training swims effectively.
Start with the Puller Exercise
You’ll want to invest in some floats for your swimming sessions. You need one that you grab with your hands and one that you place between your legs. The floats will allow you to work specifically on arms or legs while you are in the pool, without tensing your muscles too much. The floats will also help you work on your core stability.
The leg float is the one that you need for the Puller exercise. Place the float between your thighs, keeping them stable throughout your exercise. You only want to use your arms to pull you across the pool and back. You can do this exercise on your front or back, but the front is often the easiest for those starting out with the floats.
This will be an excellent workout if your legs are feeling the workout from the week. It’s a recovery session that fully builds on your shoulders, upper back, and arms. It’s also one of the best for a morning session.
Start with a normal 400m swim at a moderate pace. Warm up all the muscles in your body for this and then use the puller for the main set.
Do 6x200m with the puller. Every 25m (so roughly one length of the pool depending on the size of your pool) increase your speed. You should finish with sprint sessions.
For the cool down, remove the puller and swim 400m at a recovery pace. You want to focus on stretching out the arm muscles to avoid lactic acid build up.
You’ll need to do front or back crawl for this exercise. Breaststroke just doesn’t work when it comes to the puller.
Work on Building Your Lung Capacity
Running isn’t all about boosting speed and stamina. You need to work on your breathing. New runners tend to breathe too quickly, leading to fatigue and lactic acid build up. Swimming can help you increase the amount of air that you take in. After all, you can’t breathe underwater!
When you’re swimming, you want to make a conscious effort not to hold your breath underwater. The aim is to breathe out while your head in under and then breathe in when you come up for air. Not only do you improve your lung capacity, but you will take in more air when you bring your head up—you do not have to exhale stale air to breathe in the new.
You can do this exercise either front crawl or breaststroke. If you’re new to swim training, breaststroke may be the best.
Do a warm-up covering 200m to 400m at a moderate pace. For the main part of the exercise, do 100m with a break for 30 seconds in between, repeating 12 times.
If you’re doing the exercise with front crawl, start by breathing in after every two to three strokes for the first 25m of the set. For the next 25m, increase that to four to five strokes, and then to every six to seven strokes. The last 25m of the set is a sprint.
Cool down by swimming 100m to 200m at a recovery pace. Do this breaststroke to pull out all your muscles and help them relax.
Mix Up the Strokes
Sometimes you do just want to swim lengths up and down the pool. Many runners tend to find this boring, but there are now waterproof MP3 players to help keep your mind busy, as you would when you’re on a long run. Don’t use the MP3 players when doing any of the other exercises, but you can opt for one when doing the multiple strokes for a long, back and forward swim.
Do 10 minutes of swimming drills for a warm up. You should get between 200m and 400m into your warm-up at an easy pace. Then you can do 100m with a stroke of choice and then take a one-minute break. Do another 100m with another stroke of choice, with another one-minute break at the end. Do the third stroke with another one-minute break and then repeat the cycle once.
Next, you’ll want to repeat all that but doing 200m instead. If you want to make it extra challenging, alternate your stroke for each length of the pool that you do instead of each set of 100m/200m lengths.
Cool down with a 200m swim at a recovery pace.
Now Work on Your Legs
It’s now time to build your leg muscles while in the pool. This is going to be an extremely effective exercise as a runner since you build strength that you can use to help you run faster. You’ll need the hand float for this exercise. You can also use flippers for this to help build the leg muscles further. If you’re in a small pool, it’s not worth your time with the flippers, but this is excellent for those in an Olympic size pool.
Start by swimming 200m to 400m at a moderate pace to warm up and then pick up your hand float. Do 50m at an easy pace and then 100m at a fast kick pace. Go back to 50m of easy and 100m of fast. Rest for 15 seconds. This is one interval set. You want to do four more sets to do a total of five in your workout.
You’ll then need to do cool down sessions covering 200m to 400m at a recovery pace.
Try Deep Water Running
Another way to build the leg muscles is through deep water running. Yes, this is exactly as it sounds: you run into the deep water. You will need a floatation belt to help increase your speed, but you can rely on your buoyancy if you’d like. You can also add weight floats that you use under the water, helping to add some resistance for your arms.
The benefit of this workout is that you work on the same movement you would when running. You feel like you’re doing your usual exercises but without the extra impact. The water resistance can make it much harder to run at your usual pace, helping to build strength and stamina.
Start by running at an easy tempo for 10 minutes. This is your warm up, and then you get into it. For 15-20 minutes, run at a higher pace, pushing yourself as much as possible. Then cool down with an easier pace for the last 10 minutes.
You can also do interval runs in the pool. Warm up and cool down with the same 10 minutes as above. The chance is in the 15-20-minute session. Run at a sprint for 60 seconds and then slow down the pace to a moderate one for 60 seconds. Go back to the sprint and keep changing up and down for the full 15-20-minute session. As you get better, you can increase the amount of time you sprint for in the pool.
Running isn’t the only option in the deep end. You can simulate all land-based exercises in the pool. Cross-country skiing is a popular one in aqua aerobic classes, as it helps to stretch the muscles and build the quads. You can also do jumping jacks, leapfrogs, and skip in the water.
If you have weight floats, you can also do weight training in between your running sessions. Opt for press ups, triceps dips, and even bicep curls.
Getting Your Positions Just Right
When you do come to swim, you need to make sure your strokes are just right. This is the best way to build your stamina and strength effectively.
When doing front crawl or breaststroke, you want to keep your fingers glued together. This helps to prevent water flowing between your fingers. Cup your hands very slightly, helping to pull you through the water. When doing the backstroke, you need to keep your hand flat initially, but then cup as you pull it under your body and up to the surface.
Kicking doesn’t involve your knees. This will just create more of a splash and do nothing for your leg muscles. You should kick from the hips, using the glutes and thighs throughout the workout. You will feel the workout within your butt if you do the exercise right.
The Workout Seems Slow at First
If you asked a swimmer about the workout plans, they’d tell you that you’re not swimming enough. However, as a runner, you’re doing the right amount. As you increase your abilities, you’ll be able to spend longer in the pool, but your body has been adapted mostly for the outside.
You will be slow at first. Don’t worry about that. You’re building your stamina and abilities the more you do it. Think about when you first started running. You were slow and felt pain all the time. Just because you can run doesn’t mean you can swim at that same pace. You’ll need to build up the skills. The great thing is that building up the skills will improve your stamina and fitness levels.
Don’t compare yourself with other swimmers. You don’t know how long they’ve been in the pool or what they’re training for. Good swimmers won’t compare themselves to you. They’re focused on their training and their skills.
It’s time to look at swimming for your recovery days. You can build your abilities and improve your runtime, without the impact on your joints.