If you have followed my blog since it’s 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 are usually in the pool anywhere between 2-4 hours a day. After college, I had no interest in staring at a black line. I was burned out. Swimming workouts are tough but swimming is great because it’s nonimpact.
Truthfully, I didn’t think I would ever reach a point that I WANTED to swim again. I’ve swam 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.”
I’m always thankful that I learned to swim at a very early age because it’s not as easy 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 me kids classes, coached swim team, and once showed an 80-year-old woman how to swim.
So if you are a runner, or someone wanting to benefit from swimming…what should you do?
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), swim cap, and goggles. There are a couple of pieces that are a bonus such as a kickboard or pull buoy.
The goggles I used almost exclusively through college are the Speedo Vanquisher. They aren’t designed for swimming in open water, but they are great the pool and minimally fog up. I used them for a decade and never had any issues.
Many people asked about swim caps. Why use a swim cap?
Swim cap allows you to stay more streamlined as well as 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.
There are all different kinds. Latex is the cheapest and stays put on your head. If you use gel or hair product, this is usually the cap I recommend. 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.
Pool running is just how it sounds; you run but in the pool. There is more to it, though. Pool running has a number of names from aqua jogging to deep water running. A simple google search yields dozens of pool running workouts. Unlike running on land, you don’t necessarily need a training plan.
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.
The funny thing about pool running is that it doesn’t resemble actual running. Your running form doesn’t matter as much as long as you are running. The point of it 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 horizontal run (LOL if you get it), so while swimming laps might be more enjoyable, pool running is what will help actual running and build fitness and maintain fitness for running.
Use a pool belt when pool running. It will help with proper form. Without a pool belt, your focus changes from running form and jogging to treading and staying above the surface.
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 workouts. 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, that is different than putting the effort in and getting your heart rate up.
30 Minute 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
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 county time after being injured for 2 months).
The point is to get your heart rate up.
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 and cardio 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 you 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 is going to work different muscle groups as well as 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 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. Honestly, it was awful!
Swimming for Runners: a few workouts you can do:
Need: Pull Buoy
Warmup: Swim 200 yards.
Set: 5X200 yard pulls with 2 minutes in between. Start off easy, and build to a faster pace.
Cooldown: 200 yards easy cooldown.
Total: 1400 yards
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 1-minute break between but this should be all out, and your legs should burn.
Cooldown: 200 yards
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
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.
Finally, have you subscribed to the LOLZletter? It’s a free newsletter that comes out each Monday. This week I talked about rest days and cross-training. In the newsletter, I share running industry trends and things relevant to the sport. There are often giveaways as well as discount codes.
Questions for you:
Have a question about swimming or pool running, ask!
Do you like getting in the pool?