I’m feeling a bit grumpy about this. Having established that swimming gives me a horse-like appetite, I now read that multi-discipline athletes have the edge on pure swimmers. I’ve had a horrible hunch this might be the case since joining a tri-club (and not doing any running or cycling). But is it?
In an article titled How to Boost Your Speed Over the Long Haul, Zena Courtney is adamant that you can’t do this through swimming alone. Clearly, practising swimming and improving your stroke will help, but she says that you also need to get out of the water and go running or cycling. She says that by physically exerting the body in different ways, eg doing a sport that requires more leg-work, your cardiovascular endurance will improve.
She also points out that it will allow you to improve strength, stamina and CV fitness without getting fatigue or injury from practising just on discipline, which seems like a fair point. I’ve blogged before about how yoga helps swimming, but now I’m starting to feel I should get on my bike too.
And that’s a really important point. Swimming is so much a mind-game; especially open water swimming. Head down, concentrating on your stroke, your focus is very much within yourself, which is part of the reason I love it. But you also only have yourself to keep you going, to settle your breathing when it feels tight, to push you on. And that’s quite hard. Runners, by contrast can train with others, keeping each other motivated and making the distance and time pass more quickly.
Josh Miller is a strength and conditioning trainer. He believes that swimmers lack “strength and explosiveness”, and advocates boxing and resistance training. His point is that what you do on land should directly benefit what you do in the water. Seems obvious, but I guess it depends on where you feel your weaknesses lie and what kind of exercise you enjoy, because there isn’t infinite time to exercise, and you don’t want to neglect your swimming.
“Boxing is a great way to develop upper body strength while also engaging the core,” says swimming coach Josh Huger.
So now I’m feeling that I perhaps don’t need to run and cycle, when I can do resistance training in the gym, yoga and perhaps try Boxfit, which sounds ace. I feel that running and cycling are too alike to swimming in that they’re pure cardio, endurance activities. But maybe it’s the similarities reap benefits as much as the differences.
Interestingly, while I can find loads of blogs and articles about swimming for cyclists and runners, I can find very little about running or cycling for swimmers. It appears that swimming is the most common weak discipline for triathletes. It seems that nobody is saying that you have to get on a bike or run to be a better swimmer.
This makes me feel better. I’m yet to discover a love for cycling: I find road biking equally tedious and terrifying; mountain biking looks fun, but I’m not sure I can be doing with the faff and expense of getting the right kit, transporting it, cleaning it, servicing it. And I actually can’t run. The hyper-mobility that does me a great service while swimming, impedes any attempts even to jog. My four year old can run further and faster than me.
But there can be no doubt that my physique and swimming ability would benefit from doing other sports. I quite like spinning for getting a sweat on, I love yoga and Pilates, and I’m growing to enjoy resistance training in the gym. And I can’t believe that any of that will be bad for my swimming efforts.
That leaves me to conclude that my fellow triclub members have the edge because they’re fitter than me, not specifically because they run and cycle. It’s clear that dry-land training is important for swimmers, and so long as it includes strengthening, flexibility and stamina, it’s best to choose exercises you enjoy, that make you feel good.