Should You Swim or Workout First?


When training or getting into shape, you might wonder if there’s some magic formula of aerobic/cardio workouts, to weight training. If swimming is your preferred method of cardio and aerobic workout, you might be wondering if it’s okay to do a workout before or after.

So… can you swim and workout in the same day, and should you swim or workout first? While you technically can swim and workout in the same day, it is not recommended, unless training for a specific sport like a triathlon. Working out before swimming could impair your swim technique, and swimming before a workout can leave you feeling fatigued.

There are some athletes that do workout before/after swimming. Many times, these types of athletes are competitive and performing at a professional level. Depending on your personal fitness goals, however, swimming and working out on separate days might best ensure you are losing weight, while building muscle, and avoiding injury in the process.

Why Swimming and Working Out on the Same Day Isn’t Recommended

Most sports doctors and professional athletes have found that swimming and weight training is best dispersed on different days, for both workouts to reap optimal results. Studies have even reflected that there are no added benefits to swimming and working out on the same day. More often than not, going into a weight training sessions post-swim will result in injury, not gains.

If you and your trainer decide swimming and working out same day is the right program for you, then we recommend the two occur within the same facility (for ease) and that your weight training and swim reps be monitored to ensure no technique is impeded by weight training beforehand, or likewise, that swimming does not weaken ones’ ability to do multiple weight repetitions.

In other words, if either workout is adversely affected by the other, the two activities need to be separated into individual days. If there is not proven evidence that doing both on the same day builds more muscle, then there is no reason to put your body through that type of strain and potential exhaustion.

The Most Important Determining Factor: What is Your Fitness Goal?

Before you start working out at all, always have a goal in mind. If you have something to work toward, odds are, you’re going to stick with it better than if you were just working out aimlessly.

Competitive Athlete

What is your fitness goal? Are you trying to become an Iron Man triathlete? Are you trying to swim competitively? If so, working up to two-a-day workouts that include both swimming and another exercise may be a necessity.  

When performing in a triathlon for example, you put your body through extreme physical stress. Prior to the event, you need to train your body to endure this kind of stress. For this reason, many triathletes create a precise training schedule, which undoubtably include two-a-day workouts.

When trying to fit in swimming, biking and running in a busy work week, it’s almost impossible to avoid working out multiple times in a day. However, when triathletes first train, they separate their workouts (morning/evening) and first focus on quality performance. If you were to swim and run back-to-back when first beginning, you would lack the energy to complete both and would perform poorly (which trains your body to move incorrectly during that event.)

It is critical when training for such a strenuous event like a triathlon, that each exercise practice is done so with precision, initially. Train your body to swim the most efficient way, train your body to maintain a steady breath while jogging, train your body to push through hills at a steady heartrate.

Then practice swimming, biking, and running in the same day, in smaller time increments. Always train your body to perform in the order of a triathlon: swim, bike, run.

Losing Weight/ Strength Gain

If your goal is simply to ‘lose weight’ or ‘gain muscle’ there are much easier ways than attempting to swim and workout in the same day. Researchers have found that injuries occur more often when muscles are tired and strained.

If you swim hard and then head to the weight area to do some bicep curls, you could cause injury due to your muscles working so hard already. On the flip side, if you do a full body workout, you may be too exhausted to finish a full swim routine, or may cut corners and swim inefficiently and be increasingly more out of breath.

What if I Want to Swim as a Recovery Workout?

Swimming is an excellent form of recovery exercise as it is gentle on your body. It is demanding on the heart and lungs; however, it puts little to no tension on your tender joints. If you are looking to swim to ‘cool down’ or do a recovery workout, then a gentle swim post workout is A-Okay!

Let’s Assume a Two-A-Day Workout is For You

After all, this is a common way to work out, especially for people on a tight schedule. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be learned, though; there are pros and cons to each way of doing a workout first.

Swimming First, Workout Second

Pros

 

If you are training for a specific event (triathlon, swimming competition) swimming first will ensure you are practicing a strong and precise technique. In addition, swimming first helps you burn more calories during your workout session, due to your already elevated heart rate. When your heart rate stays elevated, it increases one’s metabolism (due to the body’s rising temperature.)

Cons

 

 The downside of swimming before a workout is that you’re likely to be tired and less motivated to hop into the weights room and start pulling big reps. You’ll have far less energy to expel and might find that your previous personal bests are now incredibly difficult to achieve. When doing resistance training, it’s important you continue to master certain weights, and level up over time. If you continue to swim before a workout, it can hinder your physical goals by disabling you from being able to move up in weights and reps.

Weights First, Swimming Second

Pros

You have plenty of energy to conquer your goal weights and repetitions during your first workout. This will help to build important muscles that you’ll require to get in shape and assist you in your swimming technique. When muscles are used, they continue to burn fat – meaning when you get to swimming, you’ll be a fat burning machine!

 

Cons

 

Swimming immediately after a weight training workout can feel a bit like going to the dentist. You know you must do it, but you just really aren’t in the mood. A swim after weights can make your entire body feel like it’s made of Jell-O. This may sound fun, but when attempting to push through 20 minutes of cardio in a pool, this is very frustrating.

The Key Take Away

Many NSCAs like Deniz Hekmati do agree that strength training is a very important element to add to the regimen of a swimmer, and therefore establish goals in the weight room. However, as Hekmati states:

 “Swimming is a biomechanically crucial sport in terms of technique. Therefore, nothing we do prior to a swimming session should impair the technique or speed. And for an athlete to lift weights optimally, the athlete needs not to be fatigued. The workouts should not be compromised.” ( Swimming World Magazine)

In other words: you can swim and workout same day, but only if you are performing optimally at both exercises. If either performance suffers, you need to switch to one-a-day workout routines.

If you are training for a triathlon, or some other specific event, then training multiple times a day makes sense and is essential for your training. For triathletes, you will always swim first before performing any other exercise.

If your goal is to strength train, then perform your weight workout first so you don’t compromise on your muscle gains. If you are looking to lose weight or improve your swimming muscles, then swim first!

abel

Retired Athlete, Retired Personal Trainer, Retired University Teacher, Retired Sales Manager...

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