Trying to fit all of the training we need to do in a week can feel like an act of Tetris, especially for those of us who have to squeeze it around a full-time job and other responsibilities. That can mean squeezing two training sessions in a single day, especially when it comes to important (but tempting to skip) strength and mobility work.
Endurance athletes tend to prioritize running, cycling, and swimming and push other forms of conditioning to the back burner. But this can be a recipe for injury and limited progress.
A lot of triathletes will choose to pair their strength work with a swimming day. Swimming is low impact and the workouts don’t tend to last as long as running or cycling. Plus, you’re probably already at a gym, making it even easier to squeeze in a trip to the weights section.
But that leads to the question: should I swim first or lift first?
A general rule of thumb is to do the highest priority training first to avoid getting drained. That being said, one should avoid pairing two high-intensity efforts back to back. Even brick workouts are typically done at a low to moderate effort (not sprinting).
Let’s take a deeper look at pairing swimming with strength training and how it can fit into your routine.
Is Swimming Enough for Building Muscle?
Swimming is a great way to strengthen your muscles and increase your cardiovascular capacity, but it’s not a substitute for weight training. Putting your muscles under tension with weight (whether it’s your own body weight, free weights, or a machine) is the most efficient way you build muscle.
Strength training is important not just for building muscle, but also to help prevent injuries. A stronger body and core will make you a better all-around athlete. Plus, you’ll increase your power and have a better form for your main activities. Most triathlon training plans will incorporate some form of strength and conditioning so you can follow what your trainer prescribes.
For more on this, check out our post Swim or Gym – Which Is Better? Should You Swim Before or After a Workout!
Can I Swim Before My Workout?
Many athletes and triathletes opt to Swim before they workout (though it all comes down to personal preference). Choosing to swim first will improve the overall swimming performance, especially if one had adequate time to rest beforehand. If one has tired muscles before they even get in the water, their technique is likely to be impacted and can lead to decreased efficiency. It can even lead to overuse injuries caused by straining muscles and joints. (Source).
After all, swimming will be the first thing you do in the race. And while strength training is important for injury prevention, you shouldn’t expect to get jacked while focusing on an endurance sport.
Of course, it’s not always possible to get in the water prior to hitting the weights. Read on for how to make the most of swimming afterward.
Is It Okay to Swim After I Workout?
If you can’t swim prior to your workout, it’s fine to do it after, though you’ll probably want to keep it to an easy pace or recovery swim. You won’t want to try to do sprints or interval training on tired muscles.
That doesn’t mean swimming after a workout is all bad, though. There are actually some benefits. Here are five benefits :
1- Releasing Extra Energy
After you’ve cooled down from your workout, you might experience some unexpected “pockets” of energy. You can tap into these during your swim and get used to the feeling of finding energy after a long session.
2- Muscle Cool Down
Cooling down after a gym session is an important step in recovery, and swimming is a great way to do that.
3- Lower Body Relaxation
If you did a heavy leg day, swimming is a great way to release the tension and add in some easy low-impact mobility work. This will aid in your recovery so your legs feel fresh the following day.
4- Skills Practice Time
Because you won’t want to push yourself for a swimming PR, you can use this time to focus on the fundamentals like treading water and basic strokes.
5- Showering Is Easier
Swimming last means the trip to the shower is that much easier. Plus, you don’t have to go to the weight room with wet hair and skin.
You won’t want to always leave your swimming for after a workout, though, because you won’t make as much progress. Be sure to have some days that are solely dedicated to getting in the water and working on your endurance. The swim portion can be the most challenging part for triathletes, so if you don’t have a background in the sport you’ll want to make sure you’re learning with fresh muscles.
How Should I Fuel for A Back-To-Back Workout?
If you’re going to swim first, it’s best to eat a meal with slow-release carbs about an hour before your workout This can include foods like wholegrain bread, brown rice, oats, and unsalted nuts. If you want something easier to digest, you can opt for a homemade smoothie or some yogurt. (Source)
You’ll want to replenish yourself before heading into the weight room, so be sure to pack a protein snack in your bag. This can be a simple pre-made protein bar or a shake you can mix up at the gym (bonus points if you mix it with water for some extra hydration).
Play around with different combinations of food to figure out what works best in your stomach, and always refuel at the end of each workout. Protein will aid in your recovery while carbs and fat will help restore your energy levels.
Pairing a swimming session with some weight training is a great way to maximize your time in the gym. Regardless of the order you choose, it’s important to pay close attention to your recovery levels.
It’s also a good idea to periodically mix up your routine so your body can be put under different loads of stress and get used to adapting to new scenarios.
If you regularly swim before a workout, maybe try swapping the two and seeing how it feels. As always, if you’re following a specific training regimen, it’s important to adhere to the plan to get the most out of it.