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Overhead shot of a swimmer

Swimming for Runners: A Primer

By Katherine Lackey, 02/08/17, 11:45AM EST

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Don't be afraid of this key cross-training activity.

Like cycling and yoga, swimming is a great cross-training exercise for runners. That’s because it’s a non-weight-bearing workout that offers a ton of variety.

Here are some tips for entering the pool lanes.

Find a swimming friend: Grab a buddy who knows a thing or two about swimming and get him or her to give you some pointers and even a bit of a lesson if you will. Just because you know how to not drown in a pool doesn’t mean you don’t need help. Proper swimming form is everything when it comes to doing laps.

Head position: Most who didn’t swim on a team or have lessons later in life tend to keep their head position too far out of the water. That makes your hips dip well below the waterline, making your laps more difficult to complete because you’re working harder without getting as far. When you breathe, your head should be tilted and still mostly underwater with just a bit of the side of your face above to catch a mouthful of air.

Fins and pull buoys: These two swim aids can be great for newbies. Both help keep your hips up higher in the water, therefore making it easier to propel you forward and helping you keep a proper swim form. That means you can get more of a workout in without taking multiple breaks at the end of the lanes. A pull buoy is the little styrofoam thing you wedge in between your thighs.

Read more: Key Cross-Training Activities for Runners

Goggles: This may be a no-brainer for most, but as a kid I never got the hang of goggles — water was always getting inside — so I just went without them. That meant as an adult, I just ignored them and complained to my friends that if I tried to swim laps I would hit the lane dividers. When they found out I wasn’t wearing goggles, well let’s just say there was a bit of fun teasing. To put it more simply: Goggles are essential, and you should get the ones that don’t fog up easily, too.

Swimsuit fit: Doing laps in a bikini or even most one-pieces that have the little frilly skirts is not going to feel as good nor be super efficient. Invest in a swimsuit that fits. You might find that you need to go up a size from what the chart says unless you like a really tight fit. You want the suit to be secure but also comfortable to move in, especially the arms.

Water running: You can simulate running by using a floatation device in the deep-end or any lane where you can’t touch the floor. This is great of nearly every kind of running injury (check with your doctor) and can also be a way to supplement your runs each week with a workout that doesn’t put as much pressure on the legs, knees or other joints. Just make sure you keep proper running form with an upright back and your arms pumping at your sides.

You still need to hydrate: Just because you’re in the water and don’t feel sweat pouring off your body doesn’t mean you don’t need to hydrate. Bring a water bottle or two and keep it at the end of your lane so you can stay hydrated during your swim session — just like you would if you were on the run.

For more from Katharine Lackey, visit Kat Runs D.C.

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