For top-level swimmers, slipping into a pair of running shoes and hitting the pavement might make you feel a little bit like a fish out of water. Of course, many swimmers, including triathletes, are used to combining these two forms of endurance exercise, reaping the cardiovascular and muscular benefits that both running and swimming provide.

As a swimmer, if you are not already incorporating running training into your weekly routine, you might want to think about it. Here’s why:

The importance of endurance for swimmers

As a swimmer, you probably already know how important it is to have good endurance or stamina. Having a strong cardiovascular system means that you can swim for longer periods without having to take a rest.

Endurance athletes, like runners and swimmers, who have undergone years of sustained cardio training usually experience long term adaptations to their bodies. This includes changes to the heart, which undergoes an increase in size, strength, and efficiency.

But which sport works the heart more effectively? Running or swimming?

A team of scientists at the University of Guelph set out to tackle this problem by recruiting and measuring the hearts of 16 elite level runners and 16 elite-level swimmers whilst at rest. What they found was quite interesting.

They found that the runners had slightly lower resting heart rates than the swimmers, meaning that the left ventricle was more effective at pumping blood and therefore oxygen around the body. Dr. Burr, the professor who conducted the study, concluded that ‘swimmers might consider logging some miles on the road, to intensify the remodeling of their hearts’. (1)

These findings may be partly due to the activity of running being performed in a vertical position, whilst swimming sees the body orientated horizontally. When the body is vertical, the heart needs to work harder to shift the blood around the body, especially from the lower limbs and feet.

Of course, swimming still builds excellent cardiovascular strength, but placing different endurance demands on the body might be just what you need to reach the next level.

Want to get started?

Hopefully, you are now convinced of the benefits of adding running to your swimming program. But if you are new to running, here are some beneficial preparation tips:

1. Start small

If your body isn’t used to running, it can take a little while for your body to adapt. Obviously, if you are a swimmer, your heart muscle will be prepared for the challenge, but your legs might not be. Running will place great demand on your knees and hips, so start slow with short distances to ease your body into it. Alternatively, you can time your runs, keeping them short at around 20-30 minutes. Once your body has adapted, you can begin to increase the distance or time.

2. Invest in a good pair of shoes

A good pair of running shoes can make all the difference. It is best to get yourself into a shoe store and have a specialist measure and examine your feet. They will then be able to select the best shoes for you. Having a good pair of running shoes can prevent injuries from occurring and make your run much more comfortable and enjoyable.

3. Focus on technique

When you first start out running, you may feel like your knees and feet are all over the place. As a swimmer, your mechanics might be used to performing under the tension that water provides. Running, on the other hand, provides relatively little resistance, unless of course you’re running headfirst into a strong wind. When you first set out to run, focus less on your speed and more on your form. Here is a great video on what your running form should look like.

4. Breathe

As a swimmer, you will be used to holding your breath for long periods. When running, there are several breathing techniques that you can practice to improve your lung capacity. If you are wanting to take your breathing to the next level and greatly improve performance, the Airofit Breathing Trainer is an excellent piece of technology that strengthens your respiratory strength, vital lung capacity, and anaerobic threshold.

Read Also: How to Breathe While Running: Running Tips for Breathing Techniques

Think you’re ready? Let’s go!

For swimmers who are new to running, here is a one-week introduction program that you can incorporate alongside your weekly swimming training. To improve your endurance for swimming, steady-state running is the way to go. Focus on low intensity, conversational paced runs. This will allow the heart muscle to stretch fully for longer periods resulting in greater endurance benefits.

It can also be beneficial to include interval training at least once a week. During the hard intervals, your heart rate should reach 85 to 90 percent of its max, but no higher. This will greatly expand the heart muscle to near full capacity. The rest in between will allow it to fully relax and recover, building cardiovascular strength and improving maximal oxygen uptake (2)

* MHR = Max Heart Rate

Looking to boost your endurance performance in the water? Combine your running routine with our 3 swim endurance training programs, perfect for beginners, intermediate and pros!