The only way to get better at running is to run more. That seems like a simple enough rule, right? It makes sense, too ? just like with any other sport or activity, practice is the only thing that really makes a difference. Is that always the case? In fact, it's not always so black and white. Improving at one sport may require you to spend time practising in another pursuit. This concept, called cross-training, is very important. In fact, every runner should consider adding cross-training elements into their regimen. Otherwise, you're not only missing out on an opportunity to improve, but you're losing out on many other benefits as well. Swimming is among the best sports for runners to engage in for cross-training. In fact, it's worth just about every runner's time to take a hard look at swimming and perhaps even spend some time in the pool. When you start splitting your energy between these two pursuits, you will be able to see gains you might not have unlocked otherwise. So why is it so important for runners to consider adding swimming into their weekly routine? Let's break it down and take a closer look.
It helps reduce the chance of injury
While running is an excellent activity for fitness, it can also be hard on the body in some ways. Our bodies didn't evolve to be suited to running on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt. The impacts of our footfalls can be hard on our joints and ligaments, and over time, especially vigorous exercise can contribute to sports injuries often developed by runners. For this reason, it's so important to take a break from time to time.
Switching to swimming laps rather than running miles can help take some of the pressure off your body, giving it time to bounce back. Because of the supportive nature of water, your joints don't feel nearly as much of an impact from swimming as they do from running. Combined with all the other benefits discussed below, this makes it a very attractive cross-training opportunity. Save yourself from the possibility of a sports injury that sidelines you for weeks or months by taking the time to mix up your training. You'll strengthen your body while keeping it safe at the same time.
Swimming can boost your cardiovascular endurance
You can easily improve at running, because the more you do it, the more your heart develops the ability to stand up to those long, demanding sessions. That doesn't mean it's the perfect way to improve your cardiovascular endurance, though. In fact, you might find that after a particular stage in your training, you still don't have the endurance you want to push up to the next level.
Whether that's shaving your time down or going another mile, you need to find some way to train your heart to be even stronger. That's where cross-training with swimming can come in handy once again. As a heavily athletic sport, swimming will put new and different stresses on your body to which it must adapt. As you swim more, you will find that it is also an effective way to improve your endurance. When you spend a few days a week in the pool, you might start to find your normal runs becoming easier. That's the sign it's time to ramp up the difficulty and do what you couldn't before.
You work out more muscles than on the run
While running has plenty of benefits to it, it's an undeniable fact that it has almost no value as a way to work out the muscles in your body. Sure, your core needs to be strong enough to keep you upright, and obviously, your leg muscles will get a good workout.
What about the rest of your body? You might not want to hit the weight room just to keep all your muscle groups developing at the same rate as the rest of you. When you dive into the pool, you're using many more diverse muscle groups than you do while running. From your upper body all the way down to your legs, you'll get a more "full body" workout than you do completing laps on the track.
Swimming is such an excellent way to balance out your fitness.When you feel stronger because of your work in the pool, your comfort while running can increase once again.
It breaks up the monotony of your schedule
Boredom is the runner's mortal foe. We fight it off with music blaring in our earbuds, different running trails, and mixing up the time of day we lace up for a session. Yet no matter how much we try to keep it interesting, runners will always experience boredom with their sport at some point or another. These up-and-down fluctuations in interest are normal.
How you respond to them is what matters. If you choose just to quit running for days at a time, that will have a negative impact on your fitness. What if you just started doing something else entirely? Jumping into the water and swimming some laps when you've only gone running for weeks can be a very welcome change.
Cross-training provides an ideal way to break up your routine and stop the exercise from growing monotonous.Fighting off boredom with proactive exercise choices means your regimen stays intact while your body continues to grow and improve. Don't underestimate the power of a simple swim to restore your desire to go running.
Lung capacity can see bigger improvements
Boosting your cardio endurance is just one positive physical aspect for runners who cross-train in the pool. The "lungs on fire" sensation of hitting the point in a run where your body can't seem to get enough oxygen is never a fun experience. You'll have that in the pool, too, but for a better cause: improving your lung capacity. When you run, you can breathe whenever and however you like. In the pool, that's not possible: you'll get a mouthful of chlorinated pool water. Breath control plays a large part in swimming with success, so you'll have to start learning how to swim and breathe at the same time.
The result is that you can increase your VO2 max levels while boosting your overall lung capacity. When you need to conserve air between breaths, your lungs become more attuned to the process. You can structure your swimming workouts specifically to work on improving lung performance, too. This way, you'll be able to keep sucking in all the oxygen you need on your next marathon training run.
Swimming is also an ideal recovery exercise
When you finish a hardcore run, you've just put your body through a very stressful experience. Not the kind of stress you feel when a work deadline approaches ? the physical kind that can have big impacts on your body. Taking the right steps during the post-workout recovery phase can help to seal in your gains while reducing some of the more negative effects. Hydrating, eating a basic snack, and resting are all normal recovery activities. A less intense "recovery exercise" is also a good idea when you're coming off a major run. Sliding into the pool and letting the water buoy you while you stretch and swim a few lazy laps can help reduce soreness and prime your muscles for growth.
Don't overdo it ? swimming can be intense too, after all. If you have a very hard day of training on a running course one day, switch to your gentle swimming recovery routine the next day. You don't need to hit the trail again right away; you can take a break and let your body get ready for more action.
Think about mixing in cross-training soon
For these reasons and others, taking the time to don your swimsuit and take a dip in the pool is well worth the effort. Even if your butterfly stroke is a bit rusty, some practice will let you shake out the cobwebs. Don't feel confident as a swimmer? Now is the time to develop that confidence. With the benefits it holds for your body, plus the potential for improving your running times even more, you'll start to see a difference without much delay. When you're relaxing and gliding through the pool after your next long run, you'll wonder why you weren't getting in the water before!