Swim Workouts for Runners Recovering from Injury

Natalie Cecconi
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Benefits of Swimming Workouts for Runners

An average runner runs approximately 22 miles per week. This is a significant amount of running! Being an avid runner myself, I know how challenging it is to stay injury-free. This became even more so when I decided to train for a half marathon. It is a lot easier to deal with complications when you find yourself in the training cycle. It is way too easy to let things slide when you’re in the peak of your training cycle. You’re already drained enough by the increased workload as it is. The last thing you need to worry about is keeping current with your rehab exercises while also maximizing your training time.

Whatever the cause, having joint pain and any other ailment will make training more of a challenge. Injuries can eventually lead to mental burnout, so prevention is key. Rehab workouts are an extremely valuable part of recovery. Once you’re able to return to running, they should take a backseat and be integrated into your regular training routine as a form of cross-training.

With proper swimming workouts for runners you can keep your body strong all over. The list of benefits that swimming can provide for runners includes the following:

  • Improved swim form
  • Increased range of motion in joints
  • Improved cardiovascular endurance
  • Improved core strength
  • Increased hip flexibility
  • Improved arm strength
  • Improved hamstring flexibility
  • Stress relief

Tips Before Starting to Swim

If you want to build swimming as a habit for your recovery and to prevent future injuries, then you need to start thinking about it as a long-term lifestyle change. This means taking care of the four fundamentals below.

Have a Solid Foundation

If you have a foundation of good running form, the transition to swimming will go much easier for you. You do not have to be a proficient swimmer but you will need to focus on your core, glutes, quads, and calves to improve your stride and opens up various ranges of movement for you.

Do some running strength training exercises like squats and lunges.

Keep on Monitoring Your Running and Stretching

Running is a high-impact sport so a lot of focus should go to your joints. Stretch after every run. And remember to also work on your mobility.

It’s ideal to take part in patter that involves flexibility and strength exercises.

Focus on the Big Picture

Build up your swimming in a way that slowly improves the distance and build up your time. Rotate back and forth between breath-hold and breaststroke. Dip your toe in and see how you like it.

Have Fun

Swimming is a great low-impact activity. It’s a good option for those with sensitivities to impact like joint injuries.

Learn Basic Swim Techniques

The most basic swimming stroke is the freestyle, or what is also known as the crawl stroke. When swimming freestyle, the body is supposed to be at a horizontal level to the surface, so you don’t swim breaststroke or butterfly.

Beginners who aren’t comfortable with the freestyle can opt to do the backstroke.

The arms are placed to the back of the body at all times with the torso generally facing the bottom of the lane (you can face up at the wall to keep track of your stroke count). Just keep your arms close to the back of the head so that you don’t accidentally hit your face against a wall. The legs can be either at a crossed position in front of each other or in a tuck position, as if you’re kicking on your side.

Warm-up Properly

Swimming workouts can get the blood to move and muscles to warm up while your body keeps up a steady heart rate. This is different from running, where you can find yourself out of breath from the exhilaration of hitting the pavement, even if you generally keep a slower than average pace.

Swimming workouts can help your muscles become more elastic, which means you’ll be less likely to strain your muscles when running.

Everyone’s body is different, but the typical warm up period for American athletes is about 3 to 5 minutes.

What this means is that you don’t need to swim for 30 minutes to get warmed up.

You don’t even need to swim slowly. You can swim a boom workout if you want.

However, if you will be hitting a 10K or a half marathon or longer race, I wouldn’t recommend running it completely without warm-up.

Start with a shorter swim and get in your running workout before the actual race.

Take your time during your warm up in the water. This will get your heart pumping and your muscles active while you get used to being in the water.

Just like with your other workouts, focus on your breathing and your body before you begin.

Be Aware of Your Injury

And Your Limitations.

When it comes to muscle strains, the first thing you need to realize is that injuries take time to heal. It could take 2-3 weeks or even up to 4-6 weeks before you’re back to running like you had before the injury. The amount of time it takes is relative to the size and severity of the injury.

In the meantime, be aware of and prepared for any new or ongoing symptoms. Do your mobility work daily and try not to be too aggressive with your running.

This is supposed to be an injury-healing, rest time for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time moving around.

Here’s where swimming can be a great option for injured runners.

With swimming, you’re giving yourself a break from running and your muscles still feel productive as they’re moving through the water. It’s a good way to recover if you’re still early in the healing process.

At the same time, you’ll still get the aerobic and muscle-strengthening benefits of a high-intensity, low-impact workout. This can help you boost your fitness as what running can do for you.

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Running and swimming are two of the top fitness activities, and there are many benefits to cross training.

Through the swim workouts described in this post, you will be able to strengthen muscles that are not normally used when running, improve your flexibility, endurance, and cardiovascular capacity, and reduce stress.

The major difference between running and swimming is that the majority of the resistance in a pool comes from your own body as opposed to gravity on land.

Swimming also requires a specific stroke and technique to move forward, which further increases the difficulty. Because of this, swimming is considered a great form of cross training and must be learned properly to reduce injury and increase performance.

If you are a beginner swimmer and want to reap the benefits of cross training, it is important that you start slowly and work your way up.

Gradually increase your workout time and distance, and always practice proper technique.

Injury prevention is an important factor in ensuring proper technique and reducing stress on your joints.

Swim workouts can easily be adapted for runners, and these workouts are beginner friendly.

Some are designed with intervals, and all are great for improving your swimming technique and endurance.

If you are nervous about starting in the deep end, you can try swimming in a pool that has a shallow end that is only a few feet deep.

Then you can gradually increase your distance and depth.

Nice to Have

For most of us, expense of pool time, membership to a gym or even a safe open area makes training at home as a runner liberating and practical.

It’s nice to have items that will take your home fitness regime one step further. Items like pull-up bars, weights, running machines, exercise bicycles and cross trainers. And home treadmills. When you put money down on something, you become 100% commited.

Once you have made the investment, you will be more disciplined and will push yourself more.

Visit my favorite sites to check out the best home exercise equipment:

Again, it’s about having the discipline and taking the first step into the unknown. And for someone who is thinking about home training and simply stopping themselves, I say this. Don’t worry, it’s ok to say “no” to that restaurant you would normally eat at, or spend less on lunch the next day to make sure you get the treadmill you need. At the end of the day it’s your health and wellness that’s important.

Now, keep well hydrated, stay healthy, and most importantly, enjoy the journey.

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Swimming Workouts

One of the most common injuries for runners is a stress fracture. It’s a small crack in the bone caused by repetitive impact.

When just starting to run again after a long layoff (back-to-running phase), any increased stress could be too much for your bones to handle and result in a stress fracture.

If your workout program is not designed properly, you could also be setting yourself up for a stress fracture and finding yourself sidelined again.

A swimming-based workout program might be the best way to go for those suffering from stress fractures. It’s a stress response that they can feel and it’s the type of stress that they are most familiar with.

So if you’re a runner recovering from a stress fracture, swim workouts for runners are the perfect idea. It will kick start the process of getting back in shape in a stress-free manner.

This program will also help prevent future injury, because by causing you to put maximum stress on your body in a controlled manner, you can better understand what a normal stress response feels like.

When you know what a normal stress feels like, your body is less likely to mistake any of the normal daily stresses of life for injury.

So runners on the road to recovery should consider swimming.

Time vs Distance Workouts

Let’s take a look at swim workouts for runners to help you recover from an injury.

So you get injured, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you can still train, and you can still train hard!

Running workouts may be out of the question for a while, but swimming is definitely allowed.

Many triathletes and runners utilize swim workouts to build endurance, increase fitness, and improve running form. They can also be used for cross training, practicing drills, or for getting a good workout in when other activities are out of the question.

Depending on the type of injury, you may be able to do workouts that are similar to the types of workouts you’d do as a runner. But when injuries are involved, I recommend starting slow and taking it easy.

These swim workouts for runners might work for you but you might not be able to do it right away. Go slowly.

If you have a fracture or a torn muscle, you may not be able to kick or swim as far, or in some cases, at all. But here are some things you can do. The idea is to keep your leg moving, keep the blood flowing and rebuild muscle where you can.

Swim with a kickboard

Incorporate Rest

A good way to ward off any potential risk of injury is to get to the root of the cause. If you have been dealing with Achilles’ tightness and pain, stretching, foam rolling, and using a foam roller are all great ways to help loosen up your tight muscles.

Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, where the foam roller applies pressure to the muscle to help work the muscle fibers. You can also purchase a jelqing device to help with any circulation issues that may be helping to contribute to your Achilles’ issues.

Some other great exercises to help you work your calves and Achilles’ include clam shells, heel lifts, and calf raises on the stairway.

With the increased usage of the Runners Without Pain program comes several messages of success from users who have been able to successfully take on their running workout routines from prior to their injury.

They have been able to safely and effectively increase their running distance, consistency, and intensity while enjoying the various other benefits the Runners Without Pain program has to offer.

Vary Intensity

If you can swim your usual swim workout, but you’re not actually improving, you’re probably doing it wrong. There are two ways you can keep your swimming workouts interesting.

First, you can vary the intensity of the swim workout. If you typically swim relaxed, instead try swimming sets with an emphasis on speed. When you race, you swim at the highest intensity possible. Regardless of the type of swim workout you do, make sure it’s balanced. If you only swim sets at 10k effort, your a race at 10k intensity will seem like a walk in the park if your body is used to 10k intensity.

Second, you can add sets to your workout. If you’re swimming every other day and logging quality workouts, you’re either spending too much time in the pool or not challenging yourself often enough. Mixing it up with sprint, speed, tempo, and distance sets keeps your body on its toes.

If you’re in your offseason, go with more endurance sets. Simply increase the distance and/or time of each repeat and work until you’re breathing hard during the entire set. If you’re in a race season, you should mainly focus on speed.


Here is a sample pool workout that incorporates a warm-up, cool down, and a variety of different exercises to suit your aquatic needs.

It is important to realize that the pool environment may be different in some aspects than the open water.

Water resistance and buoyancy will be different in the pool than in the open water, the water temperature will be different, and there will likely be safety buoys in the pool. All of these factors will alter your workout slightly, so give yourself a chance to adjust to the differences.

As with any exercise program, make sure you warm-up before you start. Try to get your heart-rate elevated and then cool back down before starting your workout by walking or jogging in place in the pool.

It is also important to properly cool down after your workout by taking a few extra minutes to exercise at a slower pace. This will help prevent soreness after you finish exercising and also let your heart rate and breathing slowly return to normal.

Workout 1: This workout includes easy swimming in the following order: front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke, and freestyle. This will help you to determine your preferred stroke.