Swim Run Done: A Comparison of Two Popular Cardiovascular Activities

Swimming and running are both excellent forms of cardiovascular fitness. Both sports can be trained for at an elite level, or approached in light-hearted fashion as a once-in-a-while activity to maintain strength and overall health. There are many similarities and differences to the benefits and mechanics of each, and oftentimes, the two sports are used as cross-training for each other. Whether you are new to either swimming or running, or looking for an activity or sport to try and improve your fitness, here is a rundown of each sport and the similarities, differences, and benefits of the two. 

Swimming is an essential life survival skill. Beyond staying afloat, swimming is an excellent low impact cardiovascular activity. It is a full body workout, utilizing almost all muscle groups. It builds on the body’s endurance, boosts strength across the body’s muscle groups, and improves cardiovascular fitness and heart health. Since swimming is a relatively variable sport, you can work speed or distance-based workouts across the four strokes, or try some drills.

Swimming can also simply be a fun recreational activity or hobby. It can be a stress-relieving, relaxing passtime, and also improve coordination and mobility. Because of its low-impact nature, swimming can also be a great alternative or cross-training opportunity for other athletes when they are injured or sore. As a full body workout it also offers more variation in swimming laps, because you have the choice between four different strokes as well as different drills and skills to practice, such as dives and flipturns. There is also a multitude of different pieces of equipment you can try, including kickboards for kicking, pull buoys for body position, and paddles for the catch of the stroke. As a bonus, practicing different strokes, drills, and skills and using different pieces of equipment means you are utilizing various different muscle groups, whereas running is less variational, even in training different distances.

On the flip side, running as a high-impact sport can be very hard on the joints, and so may not be a long-term option for everyone. The motion of pushing down over and over as you run can be harmful, particularly on the knees, especially if your form is not correct. There are certainly ways to reduce risk of injury, however runners are always going to be more susceptible to impact injuries than swimmers. This is why swimming is sometimes considered to be more of a sustainable sport for everyone; its longevity, particularly for those with joint problems, is going to be more prolonged.

However, running is arguably an easier workout to just get up and start. It’s possible just to step outside and go, especially if the weather is nice. Humans, after all, were built to run for survival, particularly over long distances. In almost no time at all you can be throwing on some runners and heading out your front door. Some prefer, in freezing or rainy weather, to use a treadmill, which is another topic of comparison. Both outside and treadmill running can be beneficial to your training and fitness, and each also has drawbacks. Although a treadmill allows you to set a consistent pace and lets you focus on your stride, it doesn’t quite match road running for its ability to engage your leg muscles in your stride, meaning that treadmill running is slightly easier (and can be easier on the joints as well). When the weather is pleasant, nothing really beats an outside run in the sun.

Whether or not you’re training for a specific event in running or swimming, or just looking for a way to maintain fitness, both sports are excellent cardiovascular activities to try.