Swimming for Runners

Swimming for Runners

A few people have asked me to write a post about swimming for runners. If you have followed my blog since its birth in 2010, you may remember I was a swimmer. Not just a swimmer, but I swam competitively for college.

After college, I was done. Swimming is a hard sport, and to improve at the college level, and you’re in the pool anywhere between 2-4 hours a day. After college, I had no interest in staring at a black line or blue line or the bottom of the pool. I was burned out.  Swimming workouts are tough, but swimming is great because it’s nonimpact. Swimming can benefit runners in big ways.

Swimming for Runners

Truthfully, I didn’t think I would ever reach a point that I WANTED to swim again. I’ve swum on and off in the last decade, but nothing competitive and usually not unless I was an injured runner. This is the first time I’ve realized…hey, swimming isn’t “too bad.” Swimming (as crosstraining) for running has slowly crept back into my workouts.

I’m always thankful that I learned to swim at a very early age to swim because it’s not easy to learn as an adult. I’ve taught swim lessons before, and learning when you are older is much more difficult, although not impossible. I’ve taught the mommy and my kid’s classes, coached swim team, and once showed an 80-year-old woman how to swim. I’ve taught the whole range. 

So How can Swimming Help Running?

First Get the Right Equipment:

If you want to start pool running or swimming laps, you need the right equipment. Like running, swimming isn’t expensive (minus the pool).

You need a swimsuit (make sure it doesn’t move when you swim), a swim cap, and goggles.  I wrote what’s in my swimming bag, and you can check that out here.

Many people asked about swim caps.  Why use a swim cap?

A swim cap allows you to stay more streamlined and protects your hair. It might seem silly to wear, but it’s the swimmers’ norm to make swimming laps or even pool running a lot easier and keep your hair in better condition. You’ll enjoy yourself in the pool a lot more if you use a swim cap.

Latex versus silicone swim caps?

There are all different kinds. Latex is the cheapest and stays put on your head. This is usually the cap I recommend if you use gel or hair products.

Silicone is a lot more gentle on the hair and doesn’t rip hair out, but it will slide off and won’t stay put if you use hair product.

Should Runners Swim or Pool Run? 

What is pool running? Pool running is just how it sounds; you run but in the pool. Most runners see a post that says swimming for runners and think: “pool running.” It’s going to be the closest to running without being weight-bearing.

There is more to pool running, though.  Pool running has several names, from aqua jogging to deep water running. A simple google search yields dozens of pool running workouts.

Since your feet don’t touch the bottom of the pool, there is no impact. This means it’s a good option if you are injured with a stress fracture of stress injury. It’s easier to pick up if you haven’t spent much time in the pool, and as a runner, you don’t need to learn to swim.

The funny thing about pool running is that it doesn’t resemble actual running. Your running form doesn’t matter as long as you are running. The point of pool running is to get your heart rate up. Just always keep moving!

Pool running (versus swimming laps) is what is going to be most beneficial to runners. We don’t want horizontal run (LOL if you get it), so while swimming laps for runners might be more enjoyable, pool running is what will help actual running and build fitness and maintain fitness for running.

Tips for Pool Running:

Use a pool belt when pool running. It will help with the proper form. Your focus changes from running form and jogging to treading and staying above the surface without a pool belt.

I like this video with Jeff Galloway. He teaches exactly how to pool run. You want to get a bigger range of motion than you would in land running and just keep moving.

Here are a few pool running workouts for runners:

Keep in mind, you will only benefit by putting the effort in, and no one can do that for you. You can half-ass pool running and float there, but you won’t get a workout in. You can text while on the elliptical, which is different than putting the effort in and getting your heart rate up.

30 Minute Pool Running Workout:
5 minutes easy jog
10X 2 minutes alternating hard, easy. Focusing on getting your heart rate up.
5 minutes easy jog

Workout 2: 30ish minutes Pool Running Workout: 
5 minutes Easy
Cut the pool in half so you are jogging back and forth on the deep end side (or where you can’t touch the bottom)
10X one side. Sprint as hard as you can to one side, stop at the wall, and jog back. Repeat 10X. I did this one time during college when I was injured (and slowly increased reps, and it kept me in shape. Ultimately, I ran my fastest cross-country time after being injured for 2 months).

The point is to get your heart rate up.


For Swimming for Runners:

As a “retired swimmer,” I am just more prone to want to swim laps. As I add swimming back into my routine, that’s all I’ve been doing right now.

When I swam competitively and ran competitively, I didn’t find (and still don’t) swimming shape to translate into running shape. You can swim as much as you want, but chances are it won’t translate into running your fastest times. Your overall fitness will be great, but the specific movements of running don’t translate.

You can also run as much as you want but might not find yourself a great swimmer. This article about Olympian Micheal Phelps shows that the specific fitness might not always translate.

How do Runners Start Swimming Laps?

My biggest advice to anyone just getting started is to start small. You don’t have to swim 1000 meters to get a good workout. Swimming laps will work for different muscle groups and build lung capacity. You might find when you return to running; breathing is much easier.

Like running, make it a goal to swim X meters, stop, regroup, and keep going. Most pools are usually 25 meters or 25 yards. Make it your goal to swim to the end, take a break, swim back, and repeat. Once you are more confident, you can say: swim to the other side, rest 30 seconds, repeat, and keep going.

Any swimmer will tell you, elite-level swimmers don’t just get in the pool for 2 hours and get out. It’s not like a long run. They do dozens of drills, sets, and intervals. In fact, realistically, that’s what swim practices are. It’s almost like doing speed work or intervals for the entire practice.

In the 15 years of swimming, I had one practice where our coach told us just to get in and swim mindlessly. Honestly, it was awful!

Swimming for Runners: a few workouts you can do:

Swimming for Runners Leg Recovery:
Need: Pull Buoy
Warmup: Swim 200 yards.
Set: 5X200 yard pulls with 2 minutes in between. Start easy, and build to a faster pace.
Cooldown: 200 yards easy cooldown.
Total: 1400 yards

Swimming for Runners Kick Set:
Need: Kickboard
Warmup: 200 yards
Set: 4X25 yard kick. Using the kickboard, kick as hard as you can. Rest for 1 minute between.
50 Yards easy. Use this to flush out your legs; take your time.
4X25 yard kick: Kick as hard as you can. Rest for one minute in between.
50 Yards easy
4X25 yard kick. Alternate hard, easy, hard, easy. Take a minimal break as necessary, ideally working towards no break.
50 yards easy
50-yard kick as hard as you can. Take minimal breaks as needed, ideally working towards no break.
50 yards easy
2X25 yard kick. As hard as you have left. Take a 1-minute break between, but this should be all out, and your legs should burn.
Cooldown: 200 yards
Total: 1000

Swimming for Runners Swim Set:
Warmup: 200 yards
4×50 Freestyle. Your 5k effort. It should feel hard, but not like you are gassed out. Rest 2 minutes between each.
1X100 easy, “recovery.”
2×100 Freestyle. Moderate effort. This should feel like a half marathon, tough but controlled. Rest for 2 minutes between.
1×100 Easy, “recovery.”
4×25 Fast. Your hardest effort. This should feel like a mile sprint. Rest 1 minute between
1×100 Easy, recovery.
4×25 Fast. Your hardest effort. Rest 1 minute between.
Cooldown: 200 yards
Total: 1300


Swimming for Running Conclusion:

Just keep in mind, you have to do workouts that you enjoy. If swimming doesn’t click for you, that’s okay. I appreciate how enjoyable it’s been for me and a nice break from the outside world. You get lost in your own thoughts when you are submerged in the water for an hour.

Hopefully, you aren’t pool running because you are injured, but if you are, you can keep fitness up and build lung compacity by swimming and pool running.

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Questions for you:

Have a question about swimming or pool running, ask!

Do you like getting in the pool?