Cross Training: Swimming

In 2011 I began to train for my first sprint distance triathlon, the Trek Women Series Triathlon which I completed in August of that year.  Besides the Marine Corps. Marathon, this is by far my favorite athletic event I have ever participated in. The personal determination it takes to complete a triathlon is overwhelming and fills you with pride once you cross that finish line!

Me finishing the 2011 Trek Women Series Sprint Triathlon in Howell, MI.

Me finishing the 2011 Trek Women Series Sprint Triathlon in Howell, MI.

I am extremely excited to do the Trek Women Series Triathlon again this year, and I have my eye on completing a Half Ironman Triathlon within the next year.  A Half Ironman is 70.3 total miles in length (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run).  Training for a triathlon requires you to have a training schedule which includes all three triathlon elements.

Although I swim to train for triathlons, there are plenty of people out there who swim as a cross training exercise when running.  During the winter, when I am not in full training mode swimming is by far my favorite cross training activity, as I lap swim at the local high school at least 2 days a week.

Cross training is important for runners!  It helps balance our muscle groups, helps maintain and improve our cardiovascular fitness, reduces our risk of injury, and helps you avoid getting bored with running.

As a runner there is nothing quite so soothing for muscles which are tired from the pounding of the road as the gentle massaging action of water as you glide through it.  Swimming is a zero impact sport, and is the least stressful cross training activity you can do, so it is ideal when trying to come back from an injury.  There is also something incredibly calming about immersing yourself in the calm and quiet of the water.

With that being said, swimming is by no means a day at the beach either!  No other activity comes as close to being the perfect full-body exercise as swimming.  I can tell you from personal experience, that swimming uses completely different muscles that are neglected while running.  Shoulders, arms and hips will get a huge workout while swimming.  Swimming also demands special attention to your breathing patterns, and the control you learn breathing in the pool will translate to more efficient breathing while you are running.

If you know how to swim, but have never swam laps before I know how intimidating it can be.  I clearly remember the very first time I went lap swimming two years ago, to the month.  My Dad decided to come along with my Mom and I so he could “get a laugh” and boy did he ever.  As we walked out of the pool, he kept chuckling and saying how we both looked like “rocks” trying to swim.  Here are a few tips and pointers to get you started:

Most local high schools with pools offer “Open Lap Swim” on a set schedule. For example, Mason High School (where I swim) has open lap swim on Monday’s & Wednesday’s from 7:15-8:30 pm and Saturday’s 7:00-8:00 am. Most schools will charge a small fee for lap swimmers. (I pay $3/session or I can purchase a punch card for $30 which will get me 11 sessions.)  Check out your local high school or recreation center to find out when their open lap swim sessions are. (NOTE: Make sure you find the LAP swim schedule. If you find the OPEN swim schedule this typically when the pool is just open to the general public for swimming and they will not have the swim lanes up for lap swimmers.)

Invest is quality swim products! At first you may not see a difference between a $10 swimsuit and a $40 one, but trust me about 3 months into swimming you will! The chlorine put into the pool will do massive damage to your swimwear, and having a quality swimsuit made for pools will help you stretch out their lifespan.  Make sure to find a pair of swim goggles which fit your face! This is probably by far the most important item (okay, besides making sure you aren’t swimming in your birthday suit) that you will use swimming. Nothing is more frustrating that having a leaking pair of goggles or a pair you have to wear so tight you feel your eyes bruising. Here is my favorite pair of goggles! (When buying goggles take them out of the package at the store and hold them up to your face checking the fit, feel, and suction. Make sure they feel good before you buy them!)

What do you do once you are ready to swim?  Once you are dresses, paid and ready to swim you can head out to the pool.  You will see where the staff has lanes setup throughout the entire pool or like at Mason, only a certain portion of the pool is setup for lap swimmers as they also have water aerobic classes going on at the same time.   As a beginning swimmer try to pick a lane with no one in it.  Having a lane to yourself will allow you to go nice and slow, work on your swimming technique, and if you are anything like me not worry about swimming in a straight line! (Two years later I still struggle swimming in the center of my lane!) If you end up having to share a lane with other swimmers, here is a great article on the etiquette of lap swimming with others.

Do not worry about what other swimmers think.  Just like my article the other day The Self-Conscious Runner I can say the same thing about beginning swimmers.  As a forewarning: although is may come across as rude, most swimmers are not chatty while in the pool.  They will smile and be friendly, but for the most part they are there for a good workout and the time allowed for lap swimming is usually limited.

If you have ever thought about cross training and are tried of the normal activities like biking, I strongly urge you to jump in the pool and give swimming a go!!!


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