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Swim Workouts for Runners Recovering from Injury

When you’re recovering from an injury, fitness is still a concern, even though you have to stay off the road for a bit. Luckily, there are a slew of other great fitness activities available. An injury does not have to mean being sedentary. One of the most popular, because of its low-impact, full-body nature, is swimming. Grab a swim suit and a pair of goggles, and tuck into this article before heading out to the pool.

We’ll discuss some tips, include a gear guide, and finally provide a few swim workout examples at the bottom of the article. By the end, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to recover.

swim exercises for swimmers

Benefits of Swimming Workouts for Runners

While you likely would much prefer to be running, swimming is a great alternative when injury keeps you off your feet. The mechanics of swimming might be much different than running, but you’ll still  be able to maintain your cardiovascular fitness. The benefit to the injured runner is that swimming is very low-impact. You can maintain fitness while giving a repetitive stress injury a rest.

In addition, swimming is a full-body workout and can help to correct muscle imbalance, putting you in an even better shape to run after your injury has healed.

Tips Before Starting to Swim

Before you jump into the pool, make sure you’ve covered several bases first. It may have been many years since you’ve been swimming on a regular basis. Or you may have never learned the correct way to swim.

In any case, taking the time to pause before you get into the water will give you that much better of a workout.

Learn Basic Swim Techniques

If it’s been a while, you’ll want to refresh yourself on good form and proper breathing. You may even want to start with lessons if you’ve never swum before or if it’s been a really long time. Check with the pool where you plan to work out – it’s likely they offer lessons. Remember that you have a variety of stroke options available to you, including freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and so forth.

As you’re getting acclimated to the pool, try different strokes to see what works best for you. I personally prefer breaststroke and backstroke, but you’re likely different. Also, work on proper breathing. Unlike running, you’ll have to time your inhales and exhales with your stroke. This take some time to adjust to.

Warm-up Properly

Just as you’re asking for an injury and a less-than-ideal performance if you start a run without a proper warm-up, you need to warm-up before your swim workout. Swim a lap or two at an easy pace before you get going.

Be especially kind to yourself the first couple times you go for a swim. Your body needs time to get adjusted to swimming, as it’s different from running.

Be Aware of Your Injury

Swimming is very low stress on the body, and while you are not pounding the pavement in the pool, you don’t want to unintentionally aggravate your injury. For example, don’t use your feet to push off a starting board if you have an injury in your foot!

If the location of your injury starts to hurt, you might want to take a pause to see how your stroke style might be impacting it. Switch to another stroke if necessary so that you’re not making it worse. Finally, remember that it’s not a competition. This is for recovery time, so don’t overdo it!

Suggested Gear

While you probably have running gear down to a T, you’re probably less certain about swimming gear. Here are some suggestions.

Basics

At the bare minimum (no pun intended!), you’ll need at least these two items—a suit and goggles. And you’ll want to make sure that you have a good pair of goggles because you don’t want water getting into your eyes. That will impact your ability to get a good workout in.

Nice to Have

Depending on what kind of workout you want, you might also want to have a kickboard, pull buoy (so that your lower body doesn’t have as much of a workload), fins, and hand paddles. These items change the efficiency of your stroke, thus altering your workout. Some of the items make it a bit easier, some produce extra drag to make it harder.

Other Items

If you want to track your workout, you might want a swim watch, although many running watches allow you to track swim workouts as well. Additionally, if you’re someone who likes to listen to music, podcasts, or books, you might want waterproof headphones and an MP3 player (or another similar device).

Related: Best Massage Guns for Recovery

Swimming Workouts

If you’re new to the pool, then you might want to consider a couple components of a good swimming workout. We’ll also include several examples of a good swim workout that are particularly good for injured runners.

Time vs Distance Workouts

While you might be tempted to do a distance workout because that’s likely what you’ve been doing for running, that might not actually be the best idea, according to coach Patrick Billingsley. It’s best to start where you are, and, for that reason, a timed workout is better.

Just because you’d like to be able to run for 10 miles when you first start running doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to. You’re better off saying that you will run for an hour and slowly build up to that amount.

At the same time, you might still want to push yourself a little bit and could make sure that you do one lap more if your 30 minutes (or whatever the time for your workout is) ends when you’re halfway through a lap.

Related: How to stay in shape while injured

Incorporate Rest

Just like your running regimen, make sure that you include rest time. While this includes rest days, it also means that you should rest in between sets of laps. This means that at first you might be spending a lot of time resting, but it’s what you need to do as a swimmer.

Vary Intensity

Finally, don’t go hard every day. As with running, each swim workout should have a purpose. That means that some days are going to be like your easy runs, where you’re just running to run. Other days you’re going to go at it harder to push yourself a little bit. But don’t forget that you’re injured; make sure that your intensity is not too great.

swimming for runners

Examples

There are many options for swim workouts. These are a few of our favorites:

Repeating 100s

You don’t have to remember much for this workout. Simply repeat 100 yards (which means 4 laps in a standard gym pool), giving yourself enough of a break in between each 100 yards to make sure that your breathing is steady. Continue until you are too tired to do any more.

The Puller

This workout is especially good if you’re recovering from a leg injury. Your upper body will be doing most of the work, making it easier on your lower body. After warming up, use a pull buoy to complete 6 x 200m pull builds. You should slightly increase your speed every 25 meters. That means that you’ll start off at a slow pace but end with a sprint. Finish the workout with a cool down.

The Ladder

Start with a warm-up and then complete a ladder workout: 50 yards, 100 yards, 150 yards, 100 yards, and 50 yards. Make sure that you rest at least 10 seconds in between each amount and up to 30 seconds. End with a cool down.

If you’re recovering from an injury, you can’t miss the benefits you can get from swim workouts. Just remember that in many ways swimming is like running (don’t just swim at the same pace the entire time) but that in other ways, it is quite different (make sure you’re breathing properly!).

By including swimming workouts while you’re recovering from an injury, you might end up including some even when you’re completely healed!

The Wired Runner