In 2017, we might all be addicted to Netflix and fast food, but it’s also easier than it’s ever been to get fit and healthy. You can join your local gym or swimming pool, start taking exercise classes with a mate, try your hand at learning a badass new skill like boxing or karate, or even take to YouTube for some free aerobics videos (just make sure you’ve got the lime green legwarmers and headband to hand).
One of the most popular methods for getting fit is taking up jogging. Not only is it free, you can do it almost anywhere, using initiatives like Couch to 5K to get motivated.
Running is great exercise; it’s fantastic cardio (regular running is thought to reduce your chance of heart disease by up to half), it strengthens your joints, leg muscles and core, and – best of all – it pumps out a natural high that helps you switch off and relax after a tough day.
People who’ve really fallen for the running hype will know that one of the best ways to improve is to cross-train – and no, we’re not talking about that machine at the gym that makes you look like a flailing idiot. We’re talking about spending some time practising other beneficial exercise disciplines.
For runners, cross-training should involve exercises that work the same muscles and systems as running – that means using an exercise bike, weights and, well, an elliptical, AKA that machine at the gym that makes you look like a flailing idiot. Sorry.
Doing these kinds of exercises will boost your general fitness and improve your running times, but if you’re not a gym nut, and you don’t like the thought of sweating it out in front of the wannabe Dwayne Johnsons, it can be hard to get motivated.
Swimming isn’t always thought of as a good cross-training activity for runners, but it comes with all kinds of benefits. Here are just a few.
We’ve spoken about how running can be great for your heart, but swimming is pretty awesome at boosting cardiovascular health too. Swimming is good aerobic activity; it uses all the major muscle groups, which means it’s constantly forcing oxygen-rich blood around your body. The fact that your breathing is usually restricted (unless your favoured stroke is the doggy paddle) is also good for exercising your cardiorespiratory system.
And the healthier and stronger your lungs and heart, the better you’ll be at running long distances.
There’s a lot of talk in the fitness world about exercising your "glutes", and most of the time it’s tempting to roll your eyes and disregard the advice. After all, other than impressing the ladies, how much of a difference can a toned bum really make? Well... a lot, as it turns out.
Having strong glutes is key to being an efficient runner – in fact, when you have "lazy" glutes, you risk injuring your hamstrings, quads and hip flexors, because these areas are forced to take more of the load and can become fatigued quickly. You can work your glutes by doing lunges, deep squats or hip extension exercises – but you can also give them a workout by swimming front crawl. Just make sure you’ve got your stroke nailed, and that you’re moving your legs from the hip and not the knee.
In short: hit the pool a few times a week and you’ll have a derrière worthy of the Magic Mike cast.
As we’ve seen, running is great exercise – but it can put a huge amount of strain on your muscles and joints, which can lead to injury (particularly if you’ve got those lazy glutes). This is why running is known as a high impact exercise.
Swimming, by contrast, is a zero impact workout. That means that it offers fantastic exercise without straining your joints. If you’re recovering from a running-related injury, you can take to the pool to keep up your exercise regime, without worrying about doing any further harm.
Essentially, swimming can be seen as running recovery – it builds endurance and maintains fitness, but gives you a break from the shin splints (not to mention the sweat patches).
What’s the best way to improve my running through swimming?If you’re serious about your running, and really looking to boost your fitness, find out where your local pool is and get a membership. Whether you’re training for a marathon, or you just want to impress the next-door neighbours with your skills, swimming is one of the best ways to keep toned, fit and healthy in between running sessions.
As we’ve said, front crawl – when done properly – is great for working your glutes, and therefore a brilliant stroke for runners. Breaststroke can be good for a cool down or a relaxed swim after another workout, while backstroke is good for your legs and core.
Remember too that it’s not all about doing laps. Stamina training, where you swim a few lengths, take a short break and repeat, is great for building lung capacity, but there are other pool exercises to try out.
Interval training involves short sprints – one pool length, followed by a short rest, repeated four to six times. After each set, relax with a few easy laps of breaststroke or freestyle.
Deepwater running can also be a great way to use your time at the pool. This is where you pick a spot at the deep end, wear a floatation device around your torso, and then essentially run on the spot, moving your arms and legs through the water as you would if you were jogging. This is a great form of resistance training, and is particularly good at building strength in the hip flexors.