Cross-training Difficulties & Swimming Story

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

2. Rehabilitation

3. Greater running fitness (efficiency and power)

4. Active recovery (I know a lot about this one!)

5. Enhanced motivation

6. Rejuvination

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.

He’s the swimmer, I’m the runner. But now I also love to swim 

 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!

Don’t know who this woman is, but this is the pool that I started swimming at

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).

Gotta love swimming with the buoy!

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.

I’m pretty fugly here because I just did a short 3 mile shake out run, but even when I don’t get all sweaty beforehand I look like a goober

 Then after it was time to negate all my hard work with some ooey gooey pizza at Fry Spring Station. It’s so cliché, but pizza is my absolute favorite food especially before races (I swear it’s the best way to carb load!)

Yes, Mitch and I got two and ate both of them!

Do you like to swim? 

What’s your favorite form of cross-training? 

What’s your “splurge” food for after workouts or long runs? 

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23 Responses to Cross-training Difficulties & Swimming Story

  1. Carina says:

    I’ve never given “athletic” swimming a real honest try b/c I don’t have easy access to a pool. I love the lazy swimming in a lake with a beer in one hand, heading to a raft to lay out, but I don’t generally like swimming, which is probably why I’ve never tried to hook myself up with an easy access pool. I know it would be good for me though.

  2. kaitwatts says:

    I love biking as my cross training. I struggle as a swimmer. I know I should practice more, but I’m just not into it.

  3. Thanks for the great swimming info! I started swimming in the fall when I was dealing with a minor injury. I was terrified because even at 25 years old I didn’t know how to go underwater without holding my nose. I’m glad I stuck with it though. Swimming is my favorite form of cross training. I should do it more, but silly running seems to get in the way 🙂

  4. I am going through the same thing right now! Nothing makes me as happy as running does but I’m recently injured and can’t run for a few weeks. So I’m trying to force myself to like swimming for my crossfit training. Its just not the same as running but I’m trying! I appreciate all your tips.

  5. ohhh swimming. i definitely have a love-hate relationship with it. i really really try to like it but it’s so hard! the first time i did a triathlon, i didn’t train for the swim at all. i knew how to swim but on the day of the race, i just jumped in the ocean and doggie paddled my way to the end. it was..interesting haha. since then, i have been trying to get into the pool more. some days i love it, some days i hate it!

    • I’m really the same way. I have some (achem, many) days where my arms get tired after a few laps and I just give up and sit in the hot tub 😉

      That is seriously amazing that you did a triathlon without training for the swim! I don’t think I could have done that!!

  6. Brittany says:

    I haven’t been swimming in SO long. My cross training go to is cycling. Your pizza looks amazing. My post workout foods are anything with chocolate and carbs.

  7. I neeeeeeed swimming, but I’m no good with the strokes. Maybe a friend would show me the ropes. I love soccer or other group sports as cross training, but sometimes you twist an ankle with that business!

    • Soccer is so much fun (I played all through high school and have played on adult leagues) but you definitely need to be careful! That’s how I tore the cartilage in my knee and it sidelined me with the running for a long time. I look back and wish I had just ran and not played as well. It was too much stress on my body….but that’s just me! I say if you love it, do it 🙂

  8. I do like swimming, but because it requires so much more effort to get to the pool, I don’t do it very often. But, I KNOW that I should, so that’s the first step, right? 🙂

  9. Idlehide says:

    I want to get into swimming, but for now I can only doggie-paddle. It is such a good workout and I need to learn how to swim laps!

  10. runningfarce says:

    Yea, I ran pretty seriously all through high school and into college and thought that I’d take a fitness swimming class one spring semester when it was cold outside. I dropped it the first week because I came to the same conclusion you did! I also have learned to love it, though and now like swimming as much as running – I hate the treadmill, though. Don’t know how you do that. UVa folks are a little kookoo – I guess that’s it.

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