I love to run. Duh, you all know that. But what you perhaps don’t know is that I really dislike cross-training. Strength training, pilates, yoga…they’re fine and dandy. Cross-training? Ughh, can’t stand it.
Ok, maybe I should clarify. I hate certain types of cross-training. Most notably, the elliptical–or any arc trainer–and stair stepper. Spinning is great (although I can’t do it as much any more because it puts too much of a “load” on my bad knee) as is swimming. But the other machines? Gag me.
I don’t monopolize any of the gym equipment except for the treadmill.
But I have to try to incorporate more cross-training because it can help to develop strength, flexibility, and balance. Not to mention it can help build cardiovascular endurance while not taxing the connective tissues like running can. According to Runner’s World, cross-training has 8 benefits for runners:
1. Injury Prevention
3. Greater running fitness (efficiency and power)
4. Active recovery (I know a lot about this one!)
5. Enhanced motivation
7. Enjoying other sports
8. Fit pregnancy (well this one is only for preggers women)
So I’m making a vow to cross-train more. By that I mean do it more consistently and do it for longer periods of time.
One form of cross-training I don’t have to force myself to do? Swimming. I didn’t grow up swimming for a team but swimming has come somewhat naturally for me. I was able to bang out the half ironman swim (1.2 miles) pretty effortless in 35 minutes with minimal long distance training. It doesn’t hurt that I have a friend that used to swim competitively himself and who coached the UVa club swim team.
I started swimming in early 2008 when I made a new year’s resolution to start racing triathlons. I was coming off my first marathon and was feeling a little too comfortable with my running routine. I had just completed a marathon–a huge goal of mine–and I found myself asking, now what? My gym at that time (Boston Sports Club) had a small 25 yard four-lane pool where I would watch the real swimmers come in and bang out a workout. They looked so fit: thin and muscular!
As with running I knew it would take awhile to build up the endurance to be able to swim for extended periods of time. But what I didn’t know was that building this endurance was much more difficult than running. I had just run a marathon so I figured I was pretty fit. My first day in the pool I learned, however, that I couldn’t even swim more than 50 yards without stopping! I quickly learned that swimming requires coordination, both with your breathing and body movements, and necessitates a completely different VO2 max than running (how efficiently your body/blood is able to bring oxygen to your muscles). I knew if I wanted to achieve my goal of being a real swimmer I needed help.
Enter Jen, a member of the Boston Triathlon Team. We met 3 times a week for a month so that she could help me refine my stroke. I already knew the correct form, but I needed to work on doing it exactly right so I could be more efficient (read: efficiency means better results with less effort). She also explained everything to me that seemed so intimidating: wearing a cap, getting the right goggles, using a buoy, and how to understand drills (5 x50 pull, 3 x 200 free).
She also explained how unlike running, where you could build endurance with only 3-4 runs a week, swimming required daily effort. A day out of the pool equals a week off of running. GEEZ, this was a commitment!
But I eventually started to see and feel results. Within 3 months I could swim 200 yards straight; within 6 months I could swim up to 1200 yards in a workout; within a year I incorporated flip turns (finally!). After about a year and a half I finally felt like I belonged in the pool as a real swimmer. I stopped worrying about how amateur I looked because I knew what I was doing! I was also thrilled about how I could swim and run in the same day. Swimming was helping me become a better runner!!
So my advice for anyone who is considering swimming? Persistence pays off! If you’re like me and want to get involved with swimming and really hone your skills to become a fitness swimmer just keep at it. Most people (those who didn’t grow up swimming competitively) can’t just jump in a pool and, boom, join a master’s swim class. It takes time but it is doable!!
Incorporating swimming into my fitness routine has been such a great decision. I know that I will continue to swim for many, many years to come. It’s allowed me to build and maintain my cardiovascular endurance and get involved with longer triathlons. The one downside? The actual motion of swimming the freestyle stroke doesn’t translate the best to running in terms of mimicking the form of running (this is probably why my Dr always tells me to aqua jog but I never want to). When you’re swimming you’re lying horizontally and relying a good deal on your upper body strength–mostly your shoulders–and hip flexors for kicking. I notice that when I swim more, like when I was training for my half ironman, my hip flexors get super tight. But overall the benefits definitely outweigh the costs!
So last night it was off to the UVa pool for a 1500 yard swim.
Do you like to swim?
What’s your favorite form of cross-training?
What’s your “splurge” food for after workouts or long runs?