Swimming and running are different exercises that require unique strengths and muscles to perform effectively. Whether you’re a recreational swimmer or former champion, moving from the pool to the pavement can be a difficult transition. Kelly Sheerin, Sports Performance Clinics Manager at AUT Millennium and Lecturer at AUT, understands this first hand. Having assessed the running mechanics of numerous swimmers in the AUT Millennium labs, he has recognised common patterns amongst aquatically-inclined individuals. Arguably the biggest difference between each activity is its impact on the body. Swimming is a non-impact sport, meaning that bones and joints are not exposed to the repetitive stresses that occur when running. A person with an extensive history in swimming will often lack the bone density required to run for long periods without injury. Inadequate bone density and muscle conditioning are primary reasons that many swimmers become injured when they first start running. It’s simple, despite displaying high levels of cardiovascular fitness, a typical ‘swimmer’s body’ is not conditioned to handle the pressures of running. To help ensure that your journey on to the land is safe and enjoyable, we’ve assembled five top tips below.

  • Start small

Starting small is quite possibly the hardest tip for competitive individuals. Even if you are capable of swimming more than 5km in a single session, it doesn’t mean your body is ready to do the same for running. Allowing your body to adapt to new impact is vital for sustained, injury-free practice. Kelly reinforces this notion. “In the early stages, don’t look to maintain your swimming fitness through running,” he says. “Ease in slowly with small runs under 3km.” After four to six weeks you can start to increase the distance. A slow start to running means less chance of injury. Kelly explains “It’s the same as going the other way, if you’ve decided to start swimming when you’re a runner. You’re not going to start doing back-to-back 5km swims, you’ll give yourself shoulder problems.”

  • Work on form

The biomechanics needed for running efficiently have almost nothing in common with swimming. Running is 2.5 times your body weight in load with every step, so when you compare that to swimming, where the only loading occurs during a start or flip turn, it’s not difficult to understand that problems can arise. “The closest stimulus to running while swimming is pushing off the wall, where you tuck down heavily like a spring,” explains Kelly. “You don’t want to compress like a spring when you run, you want to stay relatively rigid”. The differences between swimming and running mean that working on correct form is essential before tackling kilometres. Remain mindful of staying tall, keeping the core tight and avoid sinking into each step. “As someone who has never run seriously, it’s really important to actually learn to run properly,” Kelly advises.

  • Make a plan

Making a plan for your running will help to achieve two things. First, it allows you to effectively schedule the time in your routine. Secondly, it gives you oversight of recovery, an essential part of starting any new exercise. As Kelly advised, starting small is important. A simple 2.5km run or 15 minute jog is not too little in the beginning. If your body feels good after running these distances then you can start to progress after three to six weeks. “If training is done well in the beginning then you can take the reins off and run more,” says Kelly, “but done poorly in the first six weeks, it will create months of drama.” Taking the time to plan will help to establish goals that are not short sighted. Aim at a mid-term goal that isn’t tied to performance. “Being a competent, injury-free runner in three months is a great example of a mid-term goal,” advises Kelly.

  • Maintain variety

The transition to new activities takes time when done properly. Cross-training, varied terrain and resistance training are all very important for swimmers who want to start running. “Good muscle strength is going to be protective against a whole number of things,” encourages Kelly. An often overlooked training mode for runners, lifting weights helps to build strength in the muscles required to cope with the repetitive forces of running. Exploring alternative terrain, such as sand or hills, also helps to increase the range of movement for the body and improve overall functionality of the lower limbs. Deep Water Running also has a variety of attributes to help facilitate recovery without high-impact. Variety in your training promotes body functionality and reduces the chances of injury during vocational activities, such as holidays to the beach, playing with children or hiking.   

  • Listen to your body

Niggles are normal but ongoing pain is cause for concern. Running smart is important when you’re first starting out. “It takes a few months to develop bone density,” Kelly explains. It’s vital that individuals listen to their bodies and adjust the training plan accordingly, which includes seeking professional advice for technique or injury. Exposing yourself to a new exercise should occur in a slow and progressive manner. Kelly explains that “we often think about our fitness and our muscles, but you also have to let your bones adapt. Swimmers and even cyclists come from a non-weight bearing activity, so you need to allow time for your body to recover from those stimuli.”

The bottom line? Running is a fantastic activity for overall health and wellness, however, it’s important to start small, plan and listen to your body. If you want to know more about how you run and ways to improve, please get in contact with Kelly and the team at AUT Millennium Sports Performance Clinics.

AUT Millennium Sports Performance Clinics: [email protected]

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