June 12, 2002

Beyond Injury Recovery: Use Swimming to Improve Running Strength, Technique

You're heard of eating to run, lifting weights to run stronger, and deep-water pool running to recover from injury. But can swimming help you run longer, smoother, and better?

Yes, says Michael Collins, chairman of the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) coaches' committee, and an accomplished runner and triathlete. His evidence:

  1. Breath control: Proper swim technique forces rhythmic breathing. Swimmers have no choice but to be "breath control-oriented," which translates directly to greater efficiency and smoothness while running.
  2. Pace: Thanks to rhythmic breathing, swimmers automatically learn good pacing skills, whether they are training for sprint or endurance events. The mental and physical skills transfer easily to running.
  3. Balance: Swimming serves as an excellent complement to weight-lifting, developing the upper-body strength runners often need without incurring undue stress - and with the added benefit of some additional aerobic exercise. Just as upper body strength helps cyclists control their bikes better, it helps runners control their stride.
  4. Flexibility: Swimming helps develop upper- and lower-body flexibility. Proper kicking, especially with fins, forces ankles to become more flexible, strengthens the ligaments and tendons that support ankle movement, and increases flexibility in the hip flexors.

Because swimming relies so heavily on technique, says Collins, "an individual with good technique will out-swim a well-trained athlete with marginal form any day." To make swimming an effective workout, he recommends learning proper form through clinics, workshops, group or individual lessons. Resources include:

  • Local rec centers, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, colleges or high schools with swimming programs
  • Transpersonal Swimming Institute (www.conquerfear.com, 510-526-6000) - Teaches swimming to adults who are afraid of the water.
  • United States Masters Swimming (www.usms.org) - While USMS is not a learn-to-swim organization, the Web site offers a listing of clubs and a worldwide "Places to Swim" directory.

United States Masters Swimming (USMS) is a national organization that provides organized workouts, competitions, clinics and workshops aged 18 and over. Programs are open to all adult swimmers (fitness, triathlete, competitive, non-competitive) who are dedicated to improving their fitness through swimming. Founded in 1970, USMS is organized with 500 clubs in 53 regions throughout the nation.