swimming vs running

Athlete Approved is reader supported. If you make a purchase through our links, we earn an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. We highly recommend all products and only promote items that are Athlete Approved.

Running: the land version of swimming. At least, that was the way I had always thought of it. Over the past few months while training during the pandemic, I have been trying other forms of exercise, and running was the first one I chose.

While swimming and running do share some similarities, I found that they are quite different, yet equally great, sports. Read on to learn more about two workouts from a swimmer’s perspective.

cope getting back into swimming shape
Author Tommy Cope
Credit: Michigan Photography

Benefits of Running

The first thing to know about running is that you probably already have all the equipment and training necessary to start today.

As long as you have a road outside your home, you’re good to go! But seriously, the barrier to entry for running is extremely low. You don’t need to pay for a gym membership, or get all the pads, helmets, bikes, etc. as you would with other sports. And, you don’t need to plan your day around it; the sidewalk is always open.

Moreover, if you’re like me, you’ll start feeling the burn in no time. Because you (probably) already have the technique down, you can get to higher heart-rates easier, leading to a better cardiovascular workout. And, of course, your legs will get much stronger.

According to Harvard, not only the muscles, but your bones will develop and grow due to the high amount of impact felt on your feet. This will strengthen you and ward off lower-body injury in the future.

Benefits of Swimming

If you have gone to a pool and splashed around, you’re halfway to swimming. What we do is that, but over and over again.

Swimming is a great way to work out for a few reasons. The first being that it is a complete, full-body exercise. You use your neck to breathe, your arms and back to pull, your torso to stabilize and balance, and your legs to kick. With using all of these muscles constantly, you are quickly able to develop a “complete” fitness, as opposed to running, where you only build leg muscle. And, whereas in most other sports, your primary muscles are lower body, the ones you use the most in swimming are your upper body. This includes biceps, triceps, shoulders, and lats. Building these muscles helps other things in life, from lifting a heavy box to other sports such as climbing. 

One of swimming’s biggest advantages is that it isn’t hard on your body. It’s very low-impact, and this helps reduce chances of injury that normally would be present in running, and most other sports. And, because you breathe moist air while swimming, people with asthma often find swimming better than other sports, as described by swimming.org

Swimming vs Running
Swimming vs Running

Which is Better:  Swimming or Running?

First of all, both sports have many shared benefits. In general, exercising brings many good things, such as better cardiovascular health, longer life, happiness, and stress release. Either sport will accomplish all of these.

Beyond this, swimming and running do have some pretty big differences, so it depends on what you want to accomplish when it comes to choosing a sport.

Running of course is more accessible. This is a good thing for any beginner. However, running is a high-impact sport, and with high training volume, tends to lead to injury. Swimming on the other hand, is virtually injury free. Because of this, swimmers are able to train at a much higher volume, with elite swimmers swimming the nearly same distance as elite runners run each day.

If you’re looking for weight-loss, swimming might be your best bet, too. Because of the full-body usage, you tend to burn far more calories. It’s been shown that you burn 800 to 900 calories per hour (if swimming fast), while only burning 600 calories per hour in running. But, you have to get to the level where you can physically swim that long before you can see those gains. You can find out more about burning calories here for swimming and running.

You cannot go wrong with either form of exercise!

Athlete Approved Tip: Diversifying your workout plan with different forms of cross training will make you a well rounded athlete. It will also keep your exercise routine fresh.

Do Swimming and Running help each other?

While they don’t use exactly the same muscles, swimming and running still rely heavily on your cardiovascular system. This includes your heart and all of the veins, arteries, and capillaries that go along with it. It is responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, providing muscles with much needed fuel. Because swimming and running are sports that depend on endurance, the muscles need oxygen constantly supplied to them.

So, if you can develop this in one or the other sport, you will be able to transfer it between them!

Three Tips for Beginning Runners

  1. Be wary of beginning with too much running! Because it is a weight bearing sport, your lower legs need to have time to adapt to added stress.
  2. Do intervals of running and walking! There’s no shame in this, and it will help you get into shape faster if you’re able to train longer.
  3. Give you body time to recover and incorporate stretching into your workout routine. We recommend using a TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller and Tiger Tail Tiger Ball.

Three Tips for Beginning Swimmers

  1. Try to learn freestyle (front crawl) first. This is the main training stroke in swimming and is a great place to start. 
  2. Start off with short course swimming. “Short course” pools are 25 yards or 25 meters long, while “long course” pools are 50 meters. Short course breaks swimming into much more manageable chunks for beginners. Here are 5 tips to help you get into swimming shape.
  3. For men, be sure to wear a swimsuit for lap swimmers. Although a jammer is more modest, briefs are honestly the most comfortable, are the quickest drying, and afford the most mobility. If you want something before you fully make the leap to the brief, try out a drag suit or a square legged suit. For women, make sure you also have a swimsuit designed for lap swimming.