Ultrarunning: The Cross-Training Value of Swimming

November 29, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “The Cross-Training Value of Swimming”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Much argument has been thrown around about the cross-training value of swimming. But there’s no denying that swimming can be an option of an ultrarunner’s overall conditioning. And perhaps another great thing about swimming is that it works as a taper or recovery session both prior to and after an ultramarathon.

Alternate exercise

The weeks leading to the race are the most challenging. Planning routine runs and cross-training exercises and careful execution of these are crucial. This is where swimming would be most beneficial before an ultramarathon. Alternating it with training runs and other preferred cross-training methods such as weightlifting will ensure optimum conditioning without the dangers of overtraining.

Method for active recovery

Swimming plays a great role for athletes recovering from unfortunate injuries prior to an ultramarathon. Because it is a zero impact sport, it is the best option for those who would still like to pursue rigorous conditioning while bouncing back from injuries. Swimming even stimulates fast recovery as it encourages proper blood flow without straining the muscles and the joints.

Substitute for weightlifting

Weightlifting has always been the go-to method for developing strength. But swimming is just as efficient as it is the only sport that develops practically every part of the body. The breast stroke targets the shoulders. Both the freestyle and the backstroke, on the other hand, condition the lower back and the hamstrings. And then there’s the butterfly stroke which strengthens the shoulders and the chest, and aqua jog that targets the lower body. Swimming, when employing different styles every time, can be an adequate alternative to weightlifting especially for runners who do not strength-train.

Conditioning during tapers

Swimming is the least stressful cross-training method so it is best employed during the tapering phase as well. Stopping cold turkey is not advisable a few weeks before the race. This is because there is the possibility the athlete will lose all the new capacities gained from all the positive training he or she has accomplished. But with swimming, the runner can obtain the much needed recovery period but still get to continue with routine conditioning without risking training fatigue or injury.

Swimming can mimic training runs too. Swim only about a fourth of the typical distance that you cover and you have simulated your run. This is a very good idea during the winter where it’s just impossible to get the good old pounding you get from actual running. Of course, you can always just hit the treadmill. But it can be very limiting especially if you long for the peace and quiet that running affords. With swimming, you’ll not only get the gentle massaging effect, but also the calm and silence as you glide through the water.


Do you have questions about cross-training through swimming, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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