Why Swimming will make me a better runner.

As you might remember, a couple of weeks ago I got a membership to the super-excellent gyms I used to work at (2006-2012 in fact). This means I have access to yoga, Pilates, spinning, (treadmills), step mills (!!!), weight training, and swimming. So far I’ve completed one extremely uncomfortable yoga class (I can’t stand on one leg, as it happens), and have been swimming a few times. Here, this happy moment will jog your memory:

Flatterning picture, isn't it?

flattering picture, isn’t it?

Let me start here with a disclaimer that I am doing zero (and I mean N-O-N-E) research into the sports and physiology literature to support anything I say in this post, this is just me, stringing things together.

I watched the video below the other day (Jay Johnson posted it on his blog), and then did the routine two nights ago. I’ve had more ankle twists, pops, strains, and sprains in my 31 years than I care to try tallying up, but it’s very likely these injuries (both the individual insults and the cumulative effect), are definitely effecting my running (negatively) but also might explain some of the persistent aches and pains I have.

When I finished this approximately 10 minute routine, I thought that my feet and lower legs felt similar to the way they feel after a swim.

Some history: For over a 18 months, until early 2012, I had very bad planter fasciitis. I slept in not one, but often two, night splints, and systematically went through every remedy out there, including working with an orthopedic surgeon. The treatment that finally proved effective (FOR ME) was to get in the pool a few times a week, and just kick, lap after lap, after lap, after lap.  I wasn’t even running very much, or consistently when these all developed in late 2010.

It’s Friday and I’ve only been running twice this week. And I’ve definitely not been observing my “become a fast runner” diet whatsoever. But I did supremely enjoy a swim session on Tuesday morning, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

So here are some reasons swimming will make me a better runner:

  1. It reminds me of the first time I practiced a complex, athletic skill, over and over, and saw consistent improvement. (I was a swimmer as a kid, and in college)
  2. I love flip-turns, I love that 5-10 meters when you’re underwater and moving fast.
  3. It makes my core stronger.
  4. It’s great breath control practice.
  5. I could float, on my back, all day. Bliss.
  6. Swimming teaches you how to selectively relax while uncomfortable.
  7. Swimming loosens up all those things made tight from running. Increases flexibility.
  8. Sometimes a break from running makes you grateful for running.
  9. Moving through the water is like being on another planet, and it feels awesome, and graceful.
  10. When I’m swimming I can think about running, without being able to critique my running in real-time, it makes for a more objective/rational view.
  11. Swim workouts are similar in structure as marathon training workouts.
  12. A great workout in the pool requires patience, as does running a great race.
  13. Swimming is a skill I’m fluent in, and it’s rhythmic, so I don’t have to think if I don’t want to…it’s calming, even medicinal.
  14. ……..I like it.

I think recreational runners tend to over-emphasize the importance of cross-training. The time we are able to allot to training is precious, and finite, so for us non-elites our best training tool is probably specificity. However, the emotional, and perhaps physically therapeutic effects of cross-training totally justify having a gym membership, or going to a few spin classes.

Just please, no cross fit. (I love this article, and also this one)

I’m registered for the Chicagoland Spring Half Marathon on Sunday…Before then, I’ll probably just go for another swim.



6 responses to “Why Swimming will make me a better runner.

  1. Great post. I was just thinking I needed to do some ankle work and this video looks like what I need to do. Thanks!

    • Sure! Check out Jay’s blog, and he’s got a bunch of video’s of great ancillary work for runners. And most of it is easy to sort of book-end your runs with.

  2. I want to like swimming, and I probably will once I manage to learn how to properly swim rather than survive and move slowly. I already picture that training going like – run part the distance, swim a smaller portion (run by the lake). Or I could put in for a gym membership with a pool. Thanks for your input!

    • Swimming really is like trying to ride a bike on the moon, but the more time you spend in the water, the more natural it feels. I promise!

      I can’t wait until the days are hot enough to jump into Lake Michigan mid run! I did that a few times last summer and it was so fun!

  3. I love swimming too. I took lessons for years as a kid, all the way up to the “advanced” class (still never mastered the butterfly though) and used to teach lessons (to kids) years ago when I was also a lifeguard. Teaching swim lessons is still the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. But of course it was, splash around for a bit, play Sharks & Minnows and then jump off the diving board. What’s not to enjoy?

  4. I’ve really enjoyed following you on your athletic journey and decided to nominate you for an award! Please accept this nomination by heading over to my blog and following the steps 🙂


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