If you’re a runner, you’re probably wondering if the grass (or pool haha) is greener as a swimmer. And if you’re a swimmer, you’re probably thinking vice versa. For example:
Runner: If I regularly run 5km (3.1 miles) per session, I wonder how much swimming that would equal?
Swimmer: If I regularly swim 500m (20 laps in a 25m pool) per session, I wonder how much running that would equal?
To me this is such a silly comparison because swimming and running is like comparing apples to oranges; one is red (and sometimes green), the other is orange and blah blah blah. Fortunately you’re in luck, because I am both a swimmer AND a runner and am here to break it down for you once and for all in this article.
The Swimming to Running Ratio
Studies show that the golden ratio is 4:1 for instance:
4 miles of running = 1 mile of swimming
An 8 km run = A 2 km swim
100m worth of running = 1 lap (25m) of swimming
Now factor in time and the ratio still stands, for example:
1 Minute Mark: ran 200m, swam 2 laps (50m)
2 Minute Mark: ran 400m, swam 4 laps (100m)
3 Minute Mark: ran 600m, swam 6 laps (150m)
and so on…
So based on this formula (and to make life simpler) here’s what you should do:
As a runner: divide by 4
Example: I run 12km so I will have to swim 3km (120 laps… yikes)
As a swimmer: multiply by 4
Example: I swim 40 laps (1000m or 1km) so I will have to run 4km
Ta da! And there’s your answer (sort of). Looking at the numbers, it seems whoever came up with this ratio was using Michael Phelps as the swimmer. If you run 12km regularly and can stomach swimming 120 consecutive laps then go right ahead. Personally, I find this ratio to be too general and here’s why.
Important Factors To Consider
Off the top of my head, here’s why the ratio doesn’t work:
What if I’m a runner that doesn’t know how to swim?
What if I’m a swimmer that is new to running?
What if I’m good at running but suck at swimming?
What if I’m a good swimmer but suffer from bad knees?
What if I’m a runner but am scared of deep water?
What if I love swimming but hate running outdoors especially when it gets cold?
What if I’m lap swimming and am sharing a lane with 6 other swimmers?
What if I’m running outside and it’s pouring rain or snowing?
What if I prefer swimming really slowly and only using breaststroke?
What if I’m running and suddenly I get cramps?
And so on…
As you can see, there are way too many factors to consider when you try to pigeon-hole everyone into the same formula. Heck, this ratio doesn’t even work for me!
A Real Case Scenario (Me)
As stated earlier, I am both a swimmer and a runner so I can give you a real world example of this. As a runner, I usually run for about one hour per session. As a swimmer, I usually swim for about one to two hours. To make things simpler I’ll stick to just one hour for this comparison:
When I run around a running track for an hour, I usually complete around 10km.
When I swim in a 25m pool for an hour, I usually complete around 2km.
So as you can see, my ratio turns out to be 5:1. 5 (running) to 1 (swimming). What your ratio is depends on you, your experience and circumstances but we can all agree on one thing when it comes to distance: Running > Swimming.
Your One Year Gameplan
Instead of worrying about ratios my suggestion to you is to just do each activity for at least one hour per session, 2-3 times a week as follows.
If You’re A Runner That’s New to Swimming
Months 1-6: Work on your technique. Practice your front crawl, breaststroke, flip turns (or just a basic wall push will suffice) and overcome any fear of deep water. Take swimming lessons at your local pool, hire a coach to get feedback on your swimming; just find ways to constantly improve in order to get to the next level. Be consistent in your training and swim for at least 2-3 times a week, 1-2 hours per session (use the hot tub, sauna, steam room to relax between sets).
Months 6-12: Work on your lap swimming in a 25m pool mixing front crawl with breaststroke. Build up your endurance by increasing your number of consistent laps going from 2, 3, 4… all the way to a minimum of 20 (500m). After you can swim 500m comfortably, challenge yourself by gradually decreasing the usage of breaststroke down to zero and by swimming in a 50m pool (Olympic size).
Months 12-onwards: After a year (or two) has passed, it is around this time to either work on increasing your speed, your distance or both. Try to do 2-4 sets of 500m lap swims per session. Learn back crawl and butterfly as well if you wish to complete your arsenal. You should also incorporate weight training into your weekly routine in order to strengthen both your swimming and running.
If You’re A Swimmer That’s New to Running
Months 1-3: Invest in proper running attire especially a good pair of running shoes, running soles and running socks. Practice running at your local running track only. The softer ground will be better for shock absorption as your body gets used to the sensation (ie. get used to developing foot blisters). Here is a good starter video:
Mix walking, light jogging and running with the goal of moving non-stop for one hour per session. Develop your running routine e.g. are you a morning, afternoon or evening runner? Run 2-3 times a week rain or shine, no excuses!
Months 3-6: Make it a goal of completing 10km or more in one hour. Minimize walking altogether and incorporate sprints into your regimen. Try different surfaces such as trails and concrete sidewalks (run around your neighbourhood). If you feel pain in your knee give your body a break, ice sore areas and wear kinesio tape to avoid runner’s knee:
Months 6-onwards: By now your body is used to running on hard surfaces and the next step is up to you. Increase your speed, your distance or both. For me, I limit myself to one hour of running (around 10-12km) 3-6 times per week.
Comparing running to swimming equivalency is silly. Just stick to being consistent with your training and if you are learning how to swim or run as a beginner you will need to invest a few months (or years) towards getting good. Although experiences may vary, it will take a lot longer to learn how to swim versus learning how to run properly based on my experience.
If you are a runner, patience is key towards learning how to breathe in the water correctly, learning front crawl and breaststroke and navigating yourself in a 25m or 50m pool lane filled with deep water. If you are a swimmer, pain (and weather) tolerance is your main obstacle especially knee pain and foot blisters.
Which activity do I prefer? To be honest, I don’t have a preference. To me they are two sides of the same coin. I get bored easily if I only do one activity all week long so I enjoy mixing up my running and swimming sessions just like choosing between chicken or fish. If you are a swimmer, runner or both consider sharing your journey with other swimmers and ask for help if ever you get stuck. Good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is swimming a good substitute for running?
Yes! Swimming and running have both proven to effectively burn calories, tone muscles and boost the cardiovascular system just in different ways. Swimming is good for relieving impact stress to your body caused by running as well as developing the upper body most notably shoulders and lats while running is good for strengthening bones.
Does swimming make you slower at running?
Despite what others would say, swimming won’t make you slower at running. In fact, swimming can help boost your running skills and improve oxygen intake.
How much harder is swimming than running?
There is more technique that needs to be learned in swimming compared to running (e.g. breathing, strokes, navigating through deep water, etc.) which is why it takes most people a year to be a competent swimmer. A swimmer can learn to run within a few weeks or months in comparison.
Which stroke is equivalent to walking? jogging? running? sprinting?
Here’s my take based on my own personal experience:
Walking is similar to a slow breaststroke
Jogging is similar to a fast breaststroke or slow front crawl
Running is similar to a fast front crawl
Sprinting is similar to butterfly stroke
Running backwards is similar to back crawl
Can I swim and run on the same day?
Yes! It’s like trying to swim two sessions in one day (which is what competitive swimmers do) or run twice a day. Just know your limits and don’t burn yourself out by pushing your body too hard in both sessions.
What are the pros and cons to running (as a swimmer)?
Pros: easier learning curve, you get to explore your neighbourhood or great outdoors, no chlorine exposure, fresh air, quiet trails, no sharing lanes with other swimmers, can be done anywhere, it’s free!
Cons: your bones and joints will ache at first, sometimes the weather is unwelcoming (rain, snow, etc.).
What are the pros and cons to indoor swimming (as a runner)?
Pros: can swim all year round (no snow, rain, etc.), the water is refreshing, develops your upper body, relieves your bones and joints, make friends with local swimmers or community, access to hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas.
Cons: difficult learning curve, more expensive, need regular access to an indoor pool, most times you will have to share a lane with other swimmers, noisy patrons (especially kids) and background music, chlorine exposure, will have to shower more thoroughly after every session.