Why you should add strength and conditioning training to your swimming and running

One of the appealing things about swimrun is its simplicity. You alternate between swimming and running as you traverse a landscape, taking everything with you, ideally moving smoothly and elegantly between two activities and back again. If you can swim and run, you’ll be fine, right?

Well, maybe. Obviously being able to run and swim are core competencies, but there’s more to swimrun than that. First, we’re talking about trail running and open water swimming, both of which are more physically demanding than running on smooth roads and swimming laps in a pool (and more fun too!).

Trail running requires coordination, balance and agility, as well as additional leg strength for steep climbs and descents. Open water swimming puts increased demands on your neck and hips than pool swimming, plus you may have to battle waves and adverse currents.

Sure, you could train for both of these things by running tough trails and swimming in rough water but that’s not practical for many of us. Instead, improving your general strength and fitness will help you cope better with conditions you might encounter on event day.

Second, it turns out that swimrun isn’t only swimming and running. It also includes transitions – climbing out of the water and back again. Unlike triathlon, where you might have carpets and handrails to help you leave the water, swimrun transitions can be challenging and unpredictable. I’ve hauled myself over granite boulders, scrambled up cliffs, waded through swamps, slid down banks and leapt from pontoons, often while being pushed and pulled by waves and sometimes dodging jellyfish. The stronger and more agile you are, the easier these things become.

Finally, doing strength and conditioning training is good for your overall fitness and your swimming and running. Yes, running works your legs, swimming builds your arms, and both train your core. It’s a pretty good combination for your overall fitness. But it doesn’t cover everything. Adding strength and conditioning training can fill those gaps. And if done sensibly, will make you more physically robust and therefore less likely to get injured while swimming or running, which means better consistency.

You don’t need an expensive gym membership or lots of equipment. You can start with body weight exercises such as planks, press ups, chin ups and squats. A good low-cost investment would be bands or stretch cords, which are both versatile and portable. Use them to replicate a lot of exercises you might do with weights in gym. Nor will you need a big time commitment. Try doing 15 to 20 minutes twice a week before or after a swim or run. You will notice the difference within a few weeks if you have not done this before.

Other things you can do that might help include:

  • Using stairs whenever possible (two at a time for extra gains)
  • If training at the pool, pull yourself out over the side at the end rather than using the steps (repeat several times for extra benefits)
  • When running, look for rough paths, jump around puddles, search out obstacles to scramble over etc. (this makes running more fun too). Take any opportunity to run uphill
  • Try cross-training with something like kayaking or paddle boarding. Not only are these good for fitness, but lugging the kit around and pumping boards gives you a free bonus workout

In brief, swimrun tests your over fitness as well as your swimming and running capabilities. Use your imagination, have fun and build these extras into your training.