5k: Some thoughts on the benefits of swimming to 5k

Swimming (Photo credit: Luther College Photos)

Here’s my own personal take on whether or not swimming will help your efforts to a faster 5k. Or for that matter how much your swim training will better your other tri-related sports if instead you are training for more than just 5k. Or you might be injured and worried about getting worse at 5k when out of run-training due to injury.

I train for 3-4 hours a week in the pool. So. Less than some but maybe a bit more than many.

Swimming will help, for sure. It can’t ‘hurt’, surely?! It will help your CV system and also to some degree with specifically preparing your legs for running and cycling. However running and cycling are what you need to do to get good at running and cycling. They are FAR more focussed at what you want to get good at……running and cycling.

Swimming is a more upper bodily focussed activity. Because your weight is supported by the water it is also easier for your heart to do its job. So a 1 hour swim workout is MUCH easier than a one hour run workout.

Also the results of TSB or other measures of training load might be skewed because of the cross training effect of swimming. Eg your figures that include swimming might suggest you are more fatigued than you really are.

Then again the benefit of a swim might be that you won’t have much to recover from whereas running hard is quite hard on your body and requires recovery time/down time.

So don’t bother swimming to help your 5k or duathlon training

…but it WILL help….a bit.

The exceptions to ‘avoiding’ swimming might be

  1. You enjoy swimming
  2. You have lots of spare time (hmmm!)
  3. You are considering triathlon, one day
  4. You are injured – there are water based rehabilitative/maintenance exercises for running
  5. As an alternative for a recovery session – actually swimming is very good for getting the gunk out of your legs after a hard session, even the next day it helps. It can have a sports-massage type effect I guess.
  6. Core stabilisation – if you have a weak core then freestyle, done properly, will strengthen it.
  7. You have your own pool, etc. etc. If I’ve missed an important one please let me know.

Then again it depends on how much you can push yourself in the pool.

I swim for 3-4 hours a week…but I do triathlon. My run times have plateaud since taking swimming seriously as I can’t devote the time that I once did to running.

Personally, if you want more variety in your running and/or cycling, I would go for weights to build strength or spend more time on your technique.

I’d be particularly interested if anyone thinks they have got faster at running because they also swam. So, for example, you run 3 times a week and instead of doing 4 runs a week you did that 4th session in the pool. So in that example you would argue somehow that your pool session was better for your running than another run session would be. As I say the swimming WOULD help but you could spend the time better…running!


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4 thoughts on “5k: Some thoughts on the benefits of swimming to 5k

  1. I have just decided to forgo swimming till spring to improve bike/run. I have much room for improvement in swimming but as for its benefit to bike or run ? In heavy rain it may help the bike or run ?

    1. Depends how long your arms are and how deep the water is. Maybe it would help the bike the most as you would not have to reach your hands down too far to start freestyling along the road

      (sy thought you were joking , so am i)

  2. Very interesting and thought out post , I do think if you have any excess fat or weight to lose swimming is a great part in improving and helping to shift weight. As you have indicated swimming is less impact so you can swim on multiple consecutive days and also combine this on the same day as other higher impact activities. If your in total optimal physical condition

    it probably won’t help you as you need to improve cardio capacity with higher intensity efforts closer to your max heart rate as you’ve indicated above. Just my thoughts on the subject.

    1. Thank you for your comment Ewen.
      Swimming is not so weight bearing as running as you say. As a guestimate for weight loss: 1 hour of running is the same as 2 hours of cycling is the same as 3-4 hours of swimming. There are a lot of ‘it depends’ in that statement and obviously very many people cannot swim for 4 hours but most could run for an hour with a bit of practice. Then again running a lot might injure you, made worse if you are carrying excess weight

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