Published on July 23, 2012
Sizzling steaks on the grill, buttery corn on the cob, watermelon (with sea salt and cayenne pepper on it, if you ask me), late nights, suntans, and swim-run workouts.
Wait a minute.
Did I just say “swim-run” workouts?
Yes, that's right, and if you have a better name for a swim-run workout, then leave your suggestion in the comments section and I'll choose the best one, then send you a brand spankin' new pair of Blue Seventy goggles.
Heck, I'll even throw in one of my old, shredded Speedos if you'd like.
But I digress.
What is a swim-run workout, why would you want to do a swim-run workout, and how do you do a swim-run workout? You're about to find out (and you don't need to be a triathlete to benefit from this type of routine!)
A swim-run workout is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you transition from the swim to the run, or vice versa, and often repeat that scenario multiple times.
So before we get into the types of swim-run workouts you can do, and some of my favorite ways to structure a swim-run workout, what are the advantages of swimming and running in one exercise session?
Swim-Run Advantage #1: No Bike.
You don't need a bike, so swim-run workouts are fast and efficient. Heck, you don't even need to be a triathlete or training for a triathlon (pay attention to #3 below to learn why). You simply head out the door (or to the gym) with goggles and shoes. No fumbling with jerseys, extra tires, CO2 cartridges, water bottles, traffic and the like.
Swim-Run Advantage #2: Less Boring Run.
Just the other day, I headed out for a 60 minute jaunt along a nice trail that winds by the river near my home. Now I certainly could have just run for the entire workout. But (and this is why I love nice weather), I grabbed my goggles, hung them around my neck like a necklace while I ran, and every 8 minutes, I jumped into the river and swam for 2 minutes.
That's just one of a few swim-run workout examples that I'll give you later in this article. Not only does a swim-run strategy break up the monotony of a long run, but it offers you a cool, refreshing dip if you're pushing yourself at a tempo pace, and it makes what could have been a long run workout instead go by extremely fast.
Swim-Run Advantage #3: You Get Fitter Way Faster.
When you do your first swim-run workout, you'll experience a surge in heart rate as blood is forced to quickly travel from your swimming muscles (like your lats, shoulders and arms) into your running muscles (like your quads, hamstrings and calves). Because of this cardiovascular blood shuttling, you'll reap an enormous burst in aerobic fitness and efficiency of distributing blood when you include swim-run workouts in your exercise routine.
If you're a triathlete, this means things like transitions, swimming and running gets much easier (just think about huffing and puffing a lot less when you run in your wetsuit from swim-to-bike transition), and if you're just trying to burn fat or get fit fast, this surge in blood flow and oxygen distribution will keep your metabolism elevated for hours.
So with those kind of swim-run workout benefits, what are you waiting for?
Oh yeah, that's right: you'd probably like a few actual swim-run workout suggestions!
In no particular order below, here are my favorites:
Swim-Run Workout #1 – The Beach:
I'm not lucky enough to live near the ocean, or near a lake or river with a sandy, extended beach front, but when I do get access to a nice strip of long sandy beach on a waterfront, I do The Beach Swim-Run Workout.
This one is pretty straightforward:
1) Begin with a nice, easy jog to the water. When you arrive at shore, mentally or physically note where you actually got into the water (i.e. draw a line in the sand, drop your shoes there, etc.), and once you're in the water, swim a good warm-up about 25-50 yards directly away from shore, or as far as you need to go to get past the chop.
2) Once you're out away from shore, turn up the heat, change directly slightly, and swim parallel to the shore at a tough, steady, tempo pace (about 85% intensity) for 4-6 minutes (use a Wetronome to keep your pace steady if that helps). After that steady tempo swim, alter direction so you're headed towards shore, and swim hard to back shore.
3) As soon as you're up on shore, run back to wherever you first got into the water (unless you're from another planet, it will take you far less time to run back to where you started swimming than it did for you to actually swim), then rapidly go back into the water and do it again. You can cruise through a workout like this 2, 3, or 4 or more times. Last year when I was waiting for some athletes who I coach to get off the bike during Ironman Canada, I did this Beach Swim-Run Workout routine along the lake shore for a full 60 minutes.
4) Bonus: if you have a little extra time at the end of this workout, and a sandy shore with few rocks, beer bottles, etc., then practice a few sprint interval repeats into the water, in which you sprint down the beach, charge into the water, and swim hard for about 20-30 seconds, then take a nice easy cruise back to shore. This is a really good way to end things if you're getting ready for a triathlon and need to work on your open water swim starts.
Swim-Run Workout #2 – The River or Lake Swim-Run:
Earlier in this article, I alluded to this type of workout, which is probably the swim-run workout routine I do most often, since I live very close to a river with a running trail. This swim-run workout works very well for running trails that parallel a river or circumvent a lake. To do the River or Lake Swim-Run:
1) Begin by getting on the trail and running. I like to split things up into 1 mile portions, but you can use 1Km portions, 1/4 mile repeats, 4-8 minute intervals, etc. For improving speed and fitness, it generally works best to keep the running portion under 10 minutes. So get out there and just start running for that approximate period of time or distances mentioned above.
2) Once you've got your running interval in, toss those shoes (if you're wearing them) into the bushes or by the side of the shore somewhere, put on your goggles, and go charging into the water. Depending on the body of water you're running next too, you can do an out-and-back or swim straight across and back (if it's a small lake or narrow river with low current). Swim for anywhere from 2 minutes up to as long a period of time as you spent running. Arrange things so you end your swim wherever you left your shoes (if you're wearing shoes) and head out on the run again. You can maintain these swim-run intervals for 20, 30, 45, 60 minutes, or whatever the time length of your planned workout is.
Swim-Run Workout #3 – The Gym Swim-Run:
Read swim-run tip #1 below to get a few more tips on this type of workout, but the gym swim-run can be nice because it is one that you can do in inclement weather conditions or in the fall and winter if you're a cold climate athlete.
This is probably the most straightforward workout of all: you simply take your planned swim workout for the day, and then do your planned run workout for the day immediately afterwards, with minimal or no recovery.
Sure, if you've got the luxury of a home swimming pool or endless pool with a treadmill nearby, you could do the same type of swim-run intervals described in the River or Lake Swim-Run, but most folks simply have access to the gym.
What you'll find is that when you run immediately after a swim: 1) you tend to sweat more; 2) you can run slightly faster; and C) you save a heck of a lot of time compared to splitting this into two workouts. For more on the Gym Swim-Run, read the first tip below.
Finally, here are a few swim-run tips to give you a better workout.
Swim-Run Tip #1: Make Your Transitions Fast
If you want to get full benefit of that high heart rate and rapid change in blood flow distribution from upper body to lower body and vice versa, you've got to make your transitions fast.
If you're doing your swim-run workouts indoors, this means that you making your locker room or poolside switch into your running shoes as fast as possible, and not worrying about completely drying off, rinsing the chlorine off your body, etc. You just show up on the treadmill messy, slightly wet, and go.
For an indoor swim-run workout, you're transitioning from the treadmill to the pool, you will want to use a bit of common courtesy and do a fast shower sweat rinse before jumping in the pool, but make it quick.
To avoid the logistical snags of running around your gym dripping wet and trying to throw in fast showers, whenever possible you should try to do your swim-run workout outdoors. If you have access to an outdoor pool, lake, river or ocean, there's no reason for you to head indoors for this type of workout – and you should follow the same rules: keep your transitions fast.
Yes, that means you'll be running occasionally with sand and gravel in your shoes (if you're not doing your runs barefoot on a beach), but a little dirt on the feet never hurt anybody. When I'm doing swim-run workouts using the river near my house, I simply stash my shoes on shore, hidden under a bush or tree, then run quickly out of the water, throw on the shoes, and go.
Swim-Run Tip #2: Don't Use An Audio Player
There's a time and a place for an underwater mp3 player or a dry land mp3 player. A swim-run workout, however, is not a time that you need to be fumbling with cables, on-off buttons, and wet headphones. Yes, I realize that research has shown that music can push you but in this case, technology is only going to hinder your workout. Keep things simple for a swim-run workout: goggles, swim cap if you're swimming near boats, and shoes if the surface requires them.
Swim-Run Tip #3: Focus On A High Cadence
For speeding up the rapid change in blood flow throughout your body, you're going to want to practice a high step-per-minute on your run and high stroke-per-minute on your swim. Long loping strides and long lazy strokes are not very effective for getting the most out of your swim-run workout. Instead, you should be swimming and running at a cadence that is slightly uncomfortable and outside your comfort zone – almost as if you need to constantly remind yourself to keep your stride and stroke turnover high.
I personally try to focus on the concept of “forward momentum” for both swim and run – maintaining a fast catch-up style stroke on the swim (meaning one arm is always playing catch-up with the other) and a slight forward lean on the run, as if I'm a ball rolling forward. Here's some more freestyle swimming tips and running biomechanics tips if you want to read up on more pointers.
Do you have questions about swim-run workouts, or your own tips to add? Leave your comments and feedback below.
And remember, I'll send a new pair of Blue Seventy goggles to whoever comes up with the best suggestion of what a swim-run workout should actually be called! I'll choose the best suggestion within 72 hours after releasing this post (original publish date Monday, July 23, so you've got until Thursday, July 26, at midnight EST!) – UPDATE: COMMENTER BUBBA WON WITH HIS SWIM-RUN WORKOUT SUGGESTION OF “AMP”, SHORT FOR “AMPHIBIAN” WORKOUT. NICE WORK BUBBA!