There is a certain camaraderie between swimmers and runners. It’s indescribable, but the two cardio-intensive sports often are paired. Many swimmers try to cross-train into running and vice-versa, but find it difficult to adapt to the different mechanics that the other sport demands. The likes of Florent Manaudou are among those for whom running is a non-starter, for example.
The Natural vs the Unnatural:
Dr. Howard Wainer of Princeton released a study to the American Statistical Association’s journal Chance in 1993 detailing the statistical differences between swimming and running. Dr. Wainer realized that humans were not built to be able to effectively travel through water at the same speeds as on land. He found that within the same timeframe, runners, on average, travel three and half times the distance that swimmers do.
Running is a natural motion for the human body. Humans have needed the ability to run for centuries and have evolved to be able to run more effectively for longer distances. Swimming, in comparison, is much more modern. The ability to swim has never been needed for humans to continue to survive so the human body has not adapted into a more swimmer-friendly shape. Because of this lack of adaption, swimmers face more drag while in the water than runners do.
Studies by NutriStrategy have shown that running and swimming are comparable in the amount of calories spent. Swimming the freestyle stroke for 30 minutes burns just about as many calories as running on a treadmill at six and a half miles per hour for thirty minutes.
Though similar in caloric expenditure, the mechanics of swimming and running are vastly different. The two exercises have some overlap in the muscle groups used, though swimming utilizes many more than running.
Running: There are five main muscle groups used while running, mostly focused in the runners’ legs. The quadriceps, the calves, the core, the glutes, and the hamstrings are all essential muscles that runners must train to reach their peak performance.
Swimming: Swimming is much more of a full-body exercise. Swimmers train 24 separate voluntary muscles to reach their peak performance. Muscles from the sternocleidomastoid in the neck to the flexor digitorum brevis in the foot are used in the freestyle stroke. Swimmers’ entire bodies are utilized when swimming, so during training and conditioning, swimmers must focus on working all 24 of these muscles.
The difference in impact felt while performing these two activities is important as well. Running can do damage to joints. The impact of consistently pushing off the ground can damage the cartilage in the knees. While there are methods of mitigating some damage, running will always require force from the runners’ legs pushing off against resistance. This is why runners are more prone to injuries like shin splints. Swimmers feel little to no impact while exercising. Apart from the wall turn, swimmers have no contact with anything but the water. This is healthier for joint health in the long run and is why many athletes with arthritis or bad joints choose swimming over running.
Both running and swimming depend on strong lung strength to oxygenate the muscles while the actions are being performed. Regulating breathing while running is important, but not vital to the success of the runner. However, for swimmers, breathing can take seconds away from their final times. Swimmers train their breathing to be quick, short, and spaced out. Swimmers, therefore, receive less oxygen while exercising, and is the reason many people feel more exhausted after swimming for 30 minutes as compared to running for 30 minutes.
These two breathing techniques are also why it’s hard for swimmers to run. Adapting to the slower, consistent breaths feels unnatural for many swimmers.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.
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Paul Bennett Walker
6 years ago
I’m a swimmer and runner and love the duathlon. I love the feeling of going from the pool to the track and often wonder if the sports compliment each other. One big difference between the two is the length of the Achilles — swimmers have short Achilles from kicking with their toes pointed, and runners tend to have longer and more flexible Achilles. That’s mostly a challenge for swimmers who have a hard time running unless they train properly, such as starting slow and building up strength and flexibility. In any case, I found your article interesting.
6 years ago
Thanks to this article, now I finaly know why I am so tired after swimming
6 years ago
6 years ago
Sandra Lucas, read this
6 years ago
Annalise Giuliano interesting!!!!!
6 years ago
“Running is a natural motion for the human body. Humans have needed the ability to run for centuries” imma go out on a limb at say millennia
6 years ago
I coach an age group swim team and we have just discovered that swimmers kill it on the track. One of my swimmers joined freshman track and has never ran in his life. His first time competing in the mile he went 5:04. As the season progressed, he started making more track practices and less swim ones, he then got slower at running.
6 years ago
“Comradery “????!! Is this a new word ?
6 years ago
Due to a back injury, I had to get in the pool. Runner turning swimmer. To begin with lung capacity was a killer. But after my swimming endurance built up and I learned to breathe through diaphragm while swimming, I found when I got back in the trails to run…running is so much easier. Swimming taught me to regulate my breathing. I still can’t run as much as I used to, but due to the therapeutic tendencies of swimming I can still run a few days a week. It strengthens your back, core, hips, and lungs. If I don’t swim, I can’t run. Go figure. One compliments the other.
3 years ago
I swim and run. Both are tough sports but swimming is harder. More muscles needed and breathing restriction in swimming. Environment more controlled in pool swimming, but it’s still way harder.
Caroline Mcgurk noooooo running..?
3 years ago
I do not agree with the natural vs unnatural comment. Swimming feels more natural than running to me. I am too uncoordinated and feel “heavy” on dryland. It is logical it takes more time to swim the same distance as you would run, due to resistance of the water (not just a matter of “ability”).
Swimming boosts your heart rate, strengthens and tones your upper and lower body muscles, and burns calories, all while remaining a low-impact form of exercise. Running tones your lower body, torches calories and, because it's considered a weight-bearing workout, helps prevent bone loss, too.Is it better to swim or work out? ›
If your goal is to build muscle mass, then hitting the gym will give better results in a shorter time. In general, swimming tends to be the better overall option for most people as it will burn calories, give a full-body workout, build muscle tone and stamina.How much weight can I lose swimming 5 days a week? ›
How Much Weight Can We Lose by Swimming 5 Days a Week? Swimming burns more calories than many other cardiovascular exercises. Just by swimming 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and taking a healthy diet, one can lose roughly 250 to 600 grams.Is swimming a form of recovery? ›
According to a study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine, swimming is one of the best recovery techniques around.How much weight can you lose by swimming for 1 hour? ›
Intense swimming workouts can burn roughly 800 calories per hour. If you're swimming intensely 4 times a week, you can expect to lose around 2-4 pounds a month .Will I get fit if I swim everyday? ›
builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. helps you maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart and lungs. tones muscles and builds strength. provides an all-over body workout, as nearly all of your muscles are used during swimming.Can swimming replace working out? ›
Depends on what you want to get out of it. If your goal is a lean swimmer's body, and quite a bit of endurance that stems from regular swimming, then yes, swimming is just enough for everything you're aiming to accomplish. If, on the other hand, you want to build muscle mass, swimming is in no way sufficient for that.Will swimming 3 times a week tone me up? ›
“Swimming is one of the best activities you can do to tone and slim your entire body,” she says. You use your arms and legs to stay afloat and your back muscles to propel you. Plus, if you're burnt out on other forms of cardio like walking or jogging, swimming can be a welcome change.How long does it take to lose 20 pounds by swimming? ›
You may lose 20 pounds in three months if you are persistent. By making swimming a part of your regular exercise routine, you not only lose the weight but you keep it off as well.Will swimming reduce belly fat? ›
Swimming brings a lot of benefits to health, skeletal system and slimming body, especially reducing excess belly fat. Under the direct impact of water, combined with full-body movement, it helps to burn calories and release energy quickly. Swimming burns more calories than brisk walking or jogging.
The distance you should swim every day depends on your fitness level and ability. For beginners, it's important to start slow and gradually increase your distance over time. A good goal for beginners is to swim for 20 to 30 minutes per session, three to four times per week.Why does it feel so good after swimming? ›
Your brain loves swimming. The extra blood and oxygen helps you become more alert, awake, and focused. It releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones in our body. There are scans of the brain that show it literally lights up in more areas even after a 20-minute walk.Why am I not losing weight from swimming? ›
The calories you burn, and the subsequent weight you lose while swimming, will depend on several different factors such as: Your current weight. Your metabolism. The intensity of the workout and/or the strokes the workout includes.What is the fastest way to lose weight in the pool? ›
- Butterfly. The butterfly stroke is generally considered to be the most effective stroke for losing weight and toning your muscles. ...
- Front Crawl/Freestyle. ...
- Backstroke. ...
Doing Laps to Get in a Good Workout
For beginners, 20 to 30 laps within 30 minutes is often an achievable and effective goal. If you're at a more intermediate level, strive for 40 to 50 laps during the same time period, and shoot for 60 laps or more if you're an advanced swimmer.
Is swimming or running better for weight loss? While swimming is better than running for calorie burn, they share the same benefits when it comes to losing weight. Some argue swimming is better since it works more muscle groups in your upper body at a greater resistance.Is it better to swim or weight Train? ›
If you are looking to burn calories, then swimming is the best route. But if your goal is to tone and build muscle, then weight lifting is the way to go. It all depends on what your end goal is.Is swimming good for weight loss or gym? ›
Swimming can help a person manage or lose weight, build strength, and improve breathing control. The benefits of swimming may also extend to mental health. People who are 19–64 years of age should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Younger children should be physically active as well.Is Going To The gym or swimming better for weight loss? ›
The answer may depend on your individual needs and goals. If you are looking to lose weight, the gym may be a better choice, as it offers more options for cardio and strength training. However, if you are looking to improve your cardiovascular health, swimming may be the better option.