Swimming As Cross-Training

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I am beginning the Novice 1 marathon training program, and I plan use swimming as my cross-training day. I don’t normally swim for exercise, so what should my swim training consist of?


How good a swimmer are you? Although I have competed in triathlons with some success, I don’t claim any proficiency in the pool. My typical water workout is to swim from one end of the pool to the other. (Is that 1 lap, or do you have to return to where you were before counting laps?) Regardless, I pause. I do not do kick turns. I simply pivot, wait and return. I don’t worry if others in the pool are swimming faster. I use the pool as much for relaxation as for an aerobic buzz. I picked up this approach many years ago from David L. Costill, Ph.D., when he was director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University. David was a masters champion swimmer, but he felt that the best benefits came while you were in the middle of the pool, and you don’t need kick turns to improve your fitness.

Others do it differently. If you can motivate yourself by timing laps, I have no problem with that, except I consider cross-training as one way to balance the long runs on weekends with easy workouts. Don’t push too hard in the pool thinking you will improve fitness. You may simply be converting what should be an easy day into a hard day.

Another pool exercise is to use a flotation vest to run in the deep end, mimicking the running movements without the running stress. That works if you are injured, but if not injured I would rather see you doing something different from running, and that would be swimming.

Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for'Runner's World'and author of 34 books, including the best-selling'Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that more than a quarter million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks.Hal uses'TrainingPeaks'to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans.'Check out more of Hal Higdon's training plans here'or on'his website.