Even though I was a reasonable recreational swimmer as a child and young adult, I didn’t take up swimming seriously as part of my routine until a number of years ago when I found I couldn’t run like I wanted to (a problem which I now attribute to shoes, which is why I run mostly in bare feet). Boy, am I glad I did start to swim. In spite of the fact that I can run farther now than ever before in my life, I find that swimming is its own joy AND it enhances my running. Some people call it cross training. I will call it cross benefits, because while it doesn’t directly train me to run, swimming brings a balance to my whole body and helps me work out the kinks.
One cross benefit is that it helps me work on aerobic fitness on days I need to rest my legs. Akin to this is that swimming requires learning to breathe rhythmically. It may not translate directly into increased circulatory function for running, but it certainly strengthens the heart and stimulates lung capacity.
The rhythmic breathing has an odd way of forcing me to relax. In order to swim smoothly with the balance needed for getting a breath of air (and not water…), I cannot be flailing or erratic with my strokes. My core needs to be held in place, but not overly tense. My arms and back need to follow a pattern of alternating power points. My legs need to kick enough to maintain alignment without cramping or getting exhausted in long distances (or when getting on a bike after a swim). If I let myself fall in the trap of being stiff, none of this can happen. It would be like trying to dance while staying rigid.
In the process of relaxing parts of the body at appropriate points in the cycle of each stroke, somehow kinks and strains get worked out. My legs always feel looser, and stay looser, if I swim between runs. Sore muscles from running or gardening often mysteriously disappear. With my Fastlane, I don’t have to stop or twist to turn at the end of a lane. Thus, I can settle into swimming. I no longer have issues with accidentally tweaking a leg or arm while pushing off of the wall.
I have even found that swimming can loosen up my strained swimming muscles! If I am feeling like something has been pulled wrong in my upper body, and I haven’t just made drastic increases in distance or speed for a workout, if often means I need to work on my swimming form. Doing little things like keeping the elbows bent and up near the surface of the water during the pull of the stroke tend to make the discomfort go away. I have to remember to not try to pull my whole body with my wimpy biceps and triceps… but rather use the larger shoulder and back muscles.
Speaking of those wimpy arm muscles of mine, at least swimming tones them. I know that at my age there will be some flesh flapping when I run, but the more toned the arms are, the less they flap. This is less distracting for me. Plus, I don’t feel the need to over dress when I run, to hide them. With the option of baring my arms, and maybe a mid drift, in the summer, I can moderate my body temperature for comfortable running with less shock to those who catch a glimpse of me. But possibly, it is just going to be shocking to see an old lady running down the street barefoot with a pierced navel exposed.