Both are forms of cardiovascular exercise included in sporting events like duathlons and triathlons, but swimming and running often divide people.
As they're relatively accessible, most people pick their preferred discipline and look to excel in it, reaching new performance levels through regular or recreational training.
Here at Presca, we believe in being both a runner and a swimmer. Being whatever you want to be—an athlete at your own definition.
Understanding the differences between swimming and running and the benefits they bring to the body can help you figure out which activity to go for and when.
What's the difference between swimming and running for the body?
Running is considered a weight-bearing exercise as it forces the body to move against gravity, meaning it can help prevent bone loss. However, the impact of it can also damage the joints. The demand of running falls mainly on the lower body and the average time the activity can be sustained for is usually longer than swimming.
Swimming isn't a weight-bearing exercise and it is low impact, so it protects the joints. It is seen as a form of resistance training as you use your muscles to push yourself through the water. It involves much more of the upper body than running; therefore it can be used for full-body strengthening and toning.
Both are hugely beneficial for cardiovascular health, helping the body take in, transport, and use oxygen more efficiently. Running and swimming develop well-rounded fitness and endurance, allowing you to become the level of athlete you want to be.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of running?
There's no doubt it improves cardiovascular fitness. The ability to include variations in each run like intervals and inclines means it serves to develop both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
Running is easy to get started with, and it's accessible. All you need is a pair of trainers and durable, lightweight clothing to get you through. For eco-conscious runners, Presca's forever running tee is a soft, lightweight, and breathable option. It's ideal for those looking for high-performance sportswear that lets them go further. Coming in a variety of colours for both men and women, Presca garments are designed sustainably. We ensure our product range makes a positive impact on the planet, the environment, and society.
As a weight-bearing exercise, running increases bone density material helping to improve bone health when done regularly. A drawback of this exercise is that it can be risky for the knee and ankle joints as they must absorb the impact of your body weight as you hit the ground. This means the joints are susceptible to injury and fracture when performed for prolonged periods or in incorrect forms. Those with joint problems like arthritis are recommended to avoid running both on the road on the treadmill.
Running is a popular choice for those that want to be more connected with nature. Runners often cite the mental health benefits of getting outside and exploring new surroundings.
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What are the benefits and drawbacks of swimming?
The health benefits of swimming are wide-spanning. The biggest one is that it works many muscle groups from across the upper body and the lower body. As you push against the water resistance, your body muscles are trained and conditioned by the activity. The result is improved levels of full body endurance.
Swimming is also not a high impact exercise, so provides an alternative to those who suffer from joint pain or are at risk of fractured bones. Swimming is better for an older generation or those with a higher percentage of body fat looking to develop their fitness. However, it won't help build bone mass in the same way as running, which is essential for younger people.
As an exercise, it's not as accessible as running. Not everybody has access to a swimming pool or can make the time to get there as often. Besides, some say it doesn't offer the same headspace as running, and the repetition of lap swimming can lead to mental fatigue a little faster.
Is running harder than swimming?
Running is more accessible than swimming. It only needs a pair of trainers as anybody can leave their house and start a run. Swimming, on the other hand, requires access to a pool which not everybody has. For this reason, more people run, and their bodies are more conditioned to the exercise.
When performed at a moderate intensity, the cardiovascular and aerobic benefits are relatively equal. However, each exercise includes individual demands that every athlete might deal with differently.
The breathwork required in swimming takes some practice, and the technique can be challenging to master. Therefore, swimming progress happens slower than running progress when starting as a beginner.
Do you burn more calories running or swimming?
The number of calories burned depends on factors like the weight and height of the individual, as well as the time and pace of the exercise.
Although some studies differ, the consensus is that swimming and running are comparable in calorie burn for the same times and intensities of exercise.
However, on average, an individual can run for longer than they can swim, which increases the number of calories you burn on average and can lead to weight loss.
Calorie burn also depends on the intensity of exercise, which is easier to increase and monitor with running than swimming.
For these reasons, many prefer to use running as a weight loss workout.
Is swimming better than running for the body?
When exercising for health purposes, both running and swimming are beneficial workouts. The NHS recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, which swimming or running can easily offer.
The main thing to keep an eye on is joint pain. Swimming helps to give the joints a rest and doesn't risk any injury on them. This can be a crucial decision-maker in those that often suffer from such ailments.
How do you get started with running?
The answer is it's relatively easy. Most people can start running without the need to sign up to a club or a gym.
Supportive footwear is an essential piece of kit to help avoid those joint problems sometimes encountered. Comfortable sportswear that allows the body to breathe and combats chaffing is fundamental too. The Presca range offers all of this and more. Made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, we guarantee environmentally conscious sportswear that inspires you to make the best choice for the planet.
Once kitted out, a beginner's running workout might start with a run-walk structure. This allows the individual's aerobic endurance to build until they can manage prolonged periods of running at a moderate pace. From here, increasing either distance or speed will stimulate performance improvements.
Running form is easy to adopt. Helpful tips include:
- Maintaining a neutral spine where the head, neck, and back are aligned
- Relaxing the shoulders and keeping them back and down
- Pushing the chest out
- Resting the hands by the waist with around a 90-degree bend in the elbow.
How to get started with swimming
There's less kit involved in swimming, but having a comfortable and durable swimsuit that you feel good in is an important starting point.
Swimming takes longer to adapt to than other activities, meaning consistency is an important factor in seeing progress.
It's recommended to start with the freestyle stroke, also known as front crawl.
- Form a long line from your head to your feet
- Avoid your middle dropping down by engaging the core
- Avoid tensing the muscles
- Kick the legs lightly
- Stroke with the arms, keeping them within the shoulders and not flaring out.
Start by setting yourself a lap goal, some of which you perform at a leisurely pace and others at a more moderate one. Take as much rest as you need between laps until you feel an increase in your stamina and the ability to go for longer.
The bottom line is that you don't need to choose between swimming or running. You can do swimming and running, which most triathletes are testament too. Both offer unique but impactful health benefits, and progressing in each discipline is ideal for well-rounded, full-body cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
Presca is here for eco-conscious athletes looking to push their limits. That can be anybody. That's why we create sportswear that's not only high performance but is sustainably led, inspiring you to make the best choices for yourself and the planet.
Presca sportswear goes further. For you. For people. For our planet.
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Blog curated by Guy Whitby (MSC) and Ironman Athlete
Guy Whitby is a medal-winning athlete and five-time Iron Man finisher. He is Presca's Operations Director and Co Founder, and has drawn on Presca's wide network of professional athletes and sports expertise to collate this blog.