It’s time to exercise. You’ve heard both swimming and running are beneficial. Yes, each helps improve your health, fitness, and weight loss, but which is best?
Like many, you may find yourself stuck in choosing between running shoes and swimming trunks. In fact, it’s a very common dilemma for those looking to start a new exercise program or expand on their current one.
You hear positive things regarding both swimming and running, but which reigns supreme?
Well, if you are looking for a comparison of swimming vs running, you’ve come to the right place. By the end of this guide, you will not only know the difference, but you will have discovered an action plan to get started today.
So, whether you are looking to lose weight, increase endurance, or improve cardiovascular health, you will find the answers. You will find the answers to all of the questions…and much, MUCH more.
Let’s get started. Read below for a quick-chart comparing swimming vs running.
Comparison Chart: Swimming vs Running
|Definition||Propel through water with limbs||Moving fast on foot.|
|Average Pace||2 min per 100 meters||9.5 min per mile|
|Average Speed||2 mph||7.4 mph|
|Time||Best in the afternoon/evening||Best in the afternoon/evening|
|Style/types||Freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, side stroke.||Long, recovery, base, tempo, progression, fartlek, hill repeats, intervals.|
|Benefit||All-body workout, low-impact, veristle, increase endurance, burn fat, tone body, builds muscle strength.||Burn fat and gain lean muscle mass, ease of entry, increase endurance, connect with other runners, builds strong bones.|
|Harmful||Risk fungal infections, skin allergies, cold pool, extra gear.||Stress on the cardiovascular system, injury.|
|Gear||Swim suit, goggles, nose plugs, ear plugs, caps.||Running shoes, compression and/or activewear, and hydration bottle.|
|Common Injuries||Shoulder irritation, rotator cuff tendonitis, Neck and lower back pain.||Runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and ITBS.|
As you can see from the chart above, running and swimming have many differences. Yet at the same time, concerning health and fitness, they are similar as well.
In this section, I will expand a bit more on some of the critical points. This way, you can determine which exercise you not only prefer, but one that will last a lifetime.
First things first, what exactly is running and swimming? To help, here are the definitions of each.
First up, swimming…
“The sport or activity of propelling oneself through water using the limbs.”
Next up, running…
“To go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground.”
Pretty simple, right? For running, you move by land, and in swimming, you move by sea. But when did it all began?
Well, the actual act of swimming and running date so far back that they are painted on the ancient cave walls of Egypt. They’ve been a part of the human race since the beginning of time. They are basic motor skills. I’m no anthropologist, but it’s my guess that our ancestors did not walk away from deadly predators. No, they ran and ran fast…really FAST. Running was survival.
So, what we really want to know is this: when did swimming and running begin competitively? Fortunately, we can narrow this down to a more precise time in history.
Running dates back to 776 BC as it’s highly regarded as the first event ever in the Olympic games. Whereas swimming didn’t make an appearance until much later. In fact, it wasn’t until 1830 Britain when competitive swimming hit the scene. At this time, the world began to see regular contests of speed and distance. The main style of swimming was the breaststroke.
Now, although the history of running and swimming is an interesting conversation, what grabs most people’s attention is speed and time. People want to know the averages and determine where they rank.
So what is the average speed and pace for swimming vs running?
Although they differ between males and females, the combined averages for swimming are 2 mph and 2 minutes per 100 meters, while running is 7.4 mph and 9.5 minutes per mile.
Click here for a chart on one-mile averages broken up by sex and age.
So now you know more about speed and pace, but when is the best time to maximize these efforts? Meaning, when is the most suitable time of day to swim and run?
Personally, I prefer the morning. I recommend performing these exercises whenever you feel most motivated. This way, you stick with your training until it turns into a healthy habit rather than a temporary adjustment to your daily routine.
Nevertheless, experts say different. They likely base their studies more on the body than the mind. Experts believe both swimming and running are best in the mid- to late-afternoon.
There are two reasons for this. One, your body reaches its peak muscle temperature during this time of the day, hence the term “warm-up.” As you can imagine, warming up prevents injuries as compared to being cold and stiff.
Think of it this way, would you sit in a freezer for 10 minutes and then go for a sprint? Of course not. You’d be asking for a world of problems. Well, by waiting until later in the day, you generate more heat, thus warming up your muscles for a run or swim of any intensity.
The second reason is based on caloric intake. By midday, your body has likely taken in some calories. More calories equal more energy. Now you won’t feel bogged down or too tired to start moving. Because isn’t the first step the hardest part of any workout? From the coach to the car, and from your car to the pool?
There are also different styles and types to consider for running and swimming. Although we will not get into the details of each, here is a list of the most common…
The 5 basic swimming styles
The 8 basic running styles
- Long run
- Recovery run
- Base run
- Tempo run
- Progression run
- Hill Repeats
Are you new to swimming? If so, start with learning how to breaststroke. Consider the breaststroke the easiest style. It’s more comfortable. Think about it, since your head is out of the water, you can breathe freely. And then, when ready….and only when ready…you put your head underwater.
When it comes to running, start with a base run. Just get moving. As you gain experience, add in long and recovery runs. This will be your easiest entry point and keep it simple. Try not to overcomplicate the process as many new runners do.
From here, you’ll need gear. If you are looking to start swimming or running, there is specific gear to use. The most common for runners are running shoes, shorts, socks, and shirts. The whole point of running clothes, better known as “activewear,” is to absorb sweat and reduce friction. That’s why it’s critical to wear clothes geared to running specifically. As add-ons, consider a music device, hydration belt, and/or GPS watch to track your time and distance.
In like manner, you’ll need the basics for swimming. To begin, grab a swim suit, goggles, cap, and backpack. Swimming gear is designed to protect your body and promote efficiency. Trust me, you don’t want to hit the pool without a pair of goggles. Your eyes need protection. Also consider ear and nose plugs, kickboards, fins, and swim shoes.
Now that you know the many differences between swimming vs running, let’s get into the benefits. Let’s discuss both the advantages and disadvantages to reach your goals faster.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Swimming Vs Running
Maybe you’re new to both swimming and running, looking for guidance. Or perhaps you have experience in one exercise type and are looking to cross-train. For example, swimming for runners.
Either way, like anything new in life, there will always be both advantages and disadvantages. Although, rest assured that with any form of exercise, you’ll find many more advantages than disadvantages. Remember, movement is medicine.
With that said, let’s start with the pluses and minuses of running. Read on for a list of both.
As you can see, there are both advantages and disadvantages. But when you weigh the two, the advantages surely tip the scale. Plus, once running feels natural, over time, many of the disadvantages fade. Now you’re left with an exercise that can be performed for a lifetime.
When it comes to swimming, there are also both positives and negatives. Read on for a list of both…
Now that you know some of the most common advantages and disadvantages of swimming vs running, let’s dig into the particulars. At this point, you may be thinking, “I see both help with weight loss, endurance, and cardiovascular health, but which one is best?”.
And I completely understand. We live in a fast-paced life. To keep up, we look for fast and proven results to reach our goals. So, continue reading into the next sections for more clarity and direction.
Swimming vs. Running – Which is a Better Weight Loss Workout?
Here’s the thing, although we search for some magic pill to become healthier, sexier, and smarter, that fact is…no such pill exists. Yet, by following a proven system, you will reach your goals faster. Fortunately, when it comes to weight loss, the formula is not complicated. See below for the weight loss formula:Calories used in exercise > calories eaten = weight loss.
Simply put, if you want to lose weight, then you must burn more calories than you eat. How’s that look numerically? Well, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following…
“Over the long term, it’s best to aim for losing 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week. Generally to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume each day, through a lower calorie diet and regular physical activity.”
What do 500 calories of swimming vs running look like? For a person who weighs 160 lbs, it will take 61 minutes of swimming, 45 minutes of jogging, or 18 minutes of interval running sprints. Click here to view the “Approximated Number of Minutes To Burn 500 Calories”.
So which is better for weight loss when you compare swimming vs running?
Although we can argue the answer, my recommendation is running. Not only does it take less time overall, but the ease of entry is much better. No trip to the gym necessary like weightlifting and no pool required like swimming. Here’s all you need to do: wake up, lace up your running shoes, and run. Not bad, right? So go run and lose weight.
Swimming vs. Running – Which is the Best Way to Build Endurance?
Before we look at swimming vs running for building endurance, let’s define it. When I say “endurance,” I’m referring to “the ability to sustain an activity over a period of time”. Being physically active is one thing, but withstanding resistance over time is another. That’s why it’s essential to build endurance.
Generally speaking, the longer you can remain active, the more benefits you’ll receive. Endurance is the catalyst to all your health and fitness goals.
So, you now know the importance of endurance. But that still leaves us with a pressing question. Which is best for building endurance: swimming or running?
Well, although swimming and running both build endurance, it will likely happen faster from running. Here’s why:
Swimming technique takes time to master. Yes, efficiency eventually comes, but until then, you waste a lot of energy. For beginners, this can typically turn a desired aerobic intensity swim (endurance-building) to an anaerobic one (strength-building). That’s why if you are looking for the shortest path to build endurance, then running will be your best choice.
Although, over time, you’ll master different strokes. It’s here where you develop the discipline to hold an aerobic capacity. And since you use your entire body to swim, this could become a better avenue for increasing stamina. But it will depend on the person.
Here are my recommendations for choosing between swimming vs running to build endurance…
If you prefer running over swimming…great! Run and jog. Staying at an easy to moderate intensity will be most effective. Whether through short or long runs, you’ll be on a path to increased stamina from day one.
On the other hand, if you prefer swimming but wish to build endurance today, you can approach it differently. Instead, run while you practice your swimming technique on the side. As swimming begins to “click,” start supplementing running workouts for swimming workouts. Eventually, you’ll reach enough swims per week to make the switch without a decline in endurance.
As you can see, both running and swimming build endurance. However, if you are looking for a shorter path, choose running. Because once you build endurance, every exercise will come easier…swimming included!
Swimming vs. Running: Whose Heart Reigns Supreme?
Since the beginning of time, across most cultures, the heart is giving the highest importance of all organs. Like in heavy machinery, the heart is the pump, without it, our machine we call the human body cannot operate. That’s why it’s crucial to improve cardiovascular health in any way possible.
So, whether you are being proactive, or looking to become healthier, running and swimming are both useful tools to a better quality of life. To help, I will now outline which exercise is best for heart health…running or swimming.
But before we begin, let’s first decide on the most reliable measure for heart health. One of the best and easiest measures is through blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force exerted in the arteries by blood and can be a clue to the current health of your heart. Nowadays, you can order a monitor on Amazon and have it at your front door by the morning.
So now the question becomes, is swimming or running best to lower blood pressure?
The answer: both (most of the time)
Harvard Health Publishing released an article titled “Take The Plunge For Your Heart” outlining the heart health benefits available through swimming. They based their conclusions on a study from the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. Here’s what they say…
“One study compared blood pressure, cholesterol levels, maximum energy output, and other measures of cardiovascular health across nearly 46,000 male and female walkers, runners, swimmers, and couch potatoes. Swimmers and runners had the best numbers, followed fairly closely by walkers.”
As you can see, not only is swimming and running equally beneficial for cardiovascular health, but they are the top exercises for lowering blood pressure, period.
Now, here’s the kicker. In a second study by the same Journal, they were able to differentiate the two based on life expectancy. When looking at deaths among 40,557 men between the ages of 20 to 90 for 13 years, they found swimmers to reign supreme. Over the course of two years only 2% of the swimmers died. That’s compared to 8% of runners, 9% of walkers, and 11% of nonexercisers.
What makes the difference? There’s no definitive information available. Yet, I can provide an observation based on experience…
It’s much easier to push yourself as a beginner while running. This has the potential to put excess wear on your heart. Between the marathons, supplements, and ease of entry, many beginners tend to push themselves too fast too early. In other words, they rush.
Never forget these words: No matter your speed, introducing running into your life is a marathon…not a sprint. It’s about gradual progression, allowing each day to be a new foundation to build from.
So, take your take time, progress each day, and remember the importance of recovery. If you find balance in your running, you will find balance in your life. And as studies have shown, a longer life can be the result of your efforts through running.
Should you exercise by land or sea? The answer is up to you. As you have read, both swimming and running have a positive effect on weight loss, cardiovascular health, endurance, and more. Running is easier to begin while swimming has less impact on the body.
Stuck on deciding? Try both. Take my advice from the endurance section. Start by running, and at the same time, work on your swimming technique on the side. If you lean towards running, stop swimming. If you like swimming, then start substituting your running days with swimming sessions.
Or if you like both, then do both. Next, if it interests you, add in cycling and start training for your first triathlon. But before anything, lace up your running shoes and get moving today!