If you’re like most runners, the chances are probably quite high that you’re on the lookout for ways to keep improving your running… right?

Most people jump to the conclusion that to improve, they need to run longer sessions, longer distances, and do more of everything…

As we discovered in our previous article, getting a good night’s sleep can make a world of a difference to your running. 

This showed us that the easiest improvements can come from the places you don’t expect, in this case… the pool!

Cross-training, in particular, swimming is a great way to work different muscles in the body that one normally wouldn’t. Cross-training allows more training without eccentric contractions while reducing eccentric load, meaning less cost on the body

When we run, we hit the ground quite hard, which results in a lengthening of the muscle, which is essentially protecting our joints. (Eccentric muscle contraction)

So how does swimming positively affect your running? 

Swimming & Active Recovery

Running is incredible! That’s why it’s one of the most loved and most popular sports. 

Running is one of the best aerobic exercises out there, it is also one of the most intense exercises. That’s why recovery is SO SO important. 

According to this study, active recovery is an effective strategy for reducing overall fatigue from muscles worked during exercise.

Active recovery means spending your recovery or cross-training days doing some low-intensity exercises that can help you to:  

  • Get more blood flowing to your tired muscles
  • Bring much-needed nutrients to the muscles that need repair  
  • Clear out metabolic waste from the muscles you use when running.

What does this all have to do with swimming? 

Swimming is relatively low in intensity, but it is easy to increase the intensity depending on your workout goal of the session. 

According to this study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, just 12 sessions of swimming with controlled breathing can lead to a 6% boost in the running economy.   

Incredible right?!

The reason for this is that when you swim, you breathe less often compared to when you’re running.  Your body uses oxygen more effectively, by swimming and building up this new oxygen efficiency, you’ll be able to bring the efficiency to your running… by including swimming in your training, you allow your muscles to get more out of every breath when you are running.

The Benefits Of Swimming

We always recommend cross-training, the reason for this is that it helps with endurance, speed, and recovery.

The amazing thing about including swimming in your training is that you tick off all 3 reasons above… in one activity.  

Swimming is low impact and increases your cardiovascular fitness, contributing to improved speed and power. The endurance you build up whilst swimming translates directly to your running.  

Let’s cover the benefits of swimming for runners…

Benefits Of Swimming For Runners 

  • Works every muscle in the body, in a greater range of motion compared to other sports.
  • Strengthens the ankles.
  • Improves flexibility and mobility.
  • Increases lung capacity, with minimal stress on the body so that you can improve your running without even running.
  • Builds muscle and strengthens different muscles that are not used in running.
  • Helps the body recover as the movement and cold water facilitate blood flow.

We all know that cross-training is one of the best ways to get a well-rounded workout.
what you might not have known is that adding swimming to your training mix can make you a faster runner.

Can Swimming Help You Run Faster?

Yes! Swimming can help you run faster.

According to a study that was published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. 

Runners who added a small amount of swimming onto their usual running training (an extra 10% of their usual running added as swimming) were able to shave more than 13 seconds off their times for a 3.2km run.

By adding swimming into your training you are essentially improving your running speed by:

  • Reducing common running injuries.
  • Improving your cardiovascular performance.
  • Strengthening your legs.
  • Speeding up your recovery.

Now that we know the good news… that to get faster, you don’t necessarily have to run more miles. 

By supplementing some running with other activities you’re able to take your running to another level without risking injury.

Let’s have a look at how we can include swimming into our training….

How Runners Should Be Training In The Pool

To include some cross-training, in this case, swimming into your training routine, try swapping out a morning of recovery or a short morning jog for some time in the pool.

  1. Pulls

Warm-up: Swim 400 meters at an easy pace.

Main set: Complete 6 x 200 pull builds. Increase your speed every 25 meters. Start slow and finish with a sprint.

Cooldown: Swim 400 meters without the buoy at a recovery pace.

A good way to let your legs recover is to use a pull buoy on your main swim sets. It will allow your legs to recover and make your upper body do most of the work. 

  1. Kicks

Warm-up: Swim 200 to 400 meters easily.

Main set: Complete five sets of the following interval: 50 meters easy, 100 meters fast kick, 50 meters easy, 100 meters fast swim, followed by 15 to 20 seconds of rest. Repeat.

Cooldown: Swim 200 to 400 meters at a recovery pace.

The kicks in swimming work to strengthen the hip flexors, IT band, and hamstrings without adding the pounding you would get on the road.

  1. Lung Strengthener

Warm-up: Swim 200 to 400 meters at an easy pace.

Main set: Complete 12 x 100 meters. For the first 25 meters, take a breath every three strokes. 

From 25 to 50 meters, take a breath every five strokes, and from 50 to 75 meters, take a breath only every seven strokes. 

Cooldown: Swim 100 to 200 meters easily.

NB. You mustn’t hold your breath during this exercise, you need to control your breath so that when your face is in the water you exhale slowly and when your face is out of the water you take a controlled breath in.

If you’re looking for science-based training plans that actually work check out the Coach Parry Training Club: Here


Devlin Eyden has a passion for seeing his athletes grow and excel. From novice runners or cyclists across all disciplines to elite mountain bikers representing South Africa at World Championships. In addition to helping you ride faster, for longer, Devlin also has the personal touch when it comes to your bike setup, aiming at improving the overall rider experience. With his background as a Sport Scientist as well as a Strength & Conditioning specialist, performance is Devlin’s main priority, be it in the gym, the lab or out on the road or trails. Being a keen runner & cyclist and having completed the Cape Epic among others, Devlin has first hand experience in what it take to reach your goals. If you’re looking for a once-off training program or ongoing, high touch support Devlin has you covered.

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