Ask Stew: Replacement for Swimming

Kickoff in pool.

When your training facilities change, it can be a challenge to find a replacement for exercises in your routine. Often people lose access to swimming pools, weight rooms, and cardio machines due to travel, deployment, or a change of living status. Here is a common question about leaving college campus and needing replacement activities for swimming.

Mr. Smith, 

I was wondering if there are exercises that I could supplement for swimming. I left college for the summer and do not have a place to swim. Do you have any recommendations? - Thanks. Martin

I typically place swimming into workouts for two reasons:

1. You need to practice swimming for future fitness tests and selection programs.

2. Swimming is an alternative to running or rucking.

Regardless why swimming is in your workout, replacing with another non-impact cardio option is my initial recommendation, but if you prefer to run more that day, go for it. Especially if you need to add more miles for your personal weekly totals and are not feeling the pains of previous days of running and/or rucking. 

Ideal Replacements for Swimming:

Workouts on the bike, elliptical, or rowing machine are great replacements for swimming. Do the following In place of 100-200m sprint intervals in the pool:

Bike / Elliptical / Rower Tabata Intervals: This workout is done in 5-minute sets where you rotate between fast / slow periods for the entire 5-minutes. You will do 20 seconds full speed followed by 10 seconds easy. Repeat 10 times for a total of 5 minutes. This is a great quick 5-minute cardio "rest" exercise placed in between circuit exercises in many of our workouts. A 5-minute set of Tabata intervals is a good replacement for swimming 5 sets of 50-100m intervals. 

Extended Tabata: If you have over  2000m of swimming to replace, this version is to go for extended periods of time doing the 20 seconds / 10 second protocol. Typically, if you are doing this for 30-minutes, you will go for 5-minutes - take 2-minutes easy and then repeat the 5-minute fast / slow cycle. Get as many 5-minute fast / slow cycles as you can in 30-minutes.

In place of 30-40 minutes of swimming workouts (2000-3000m):

Bike / Elliptical Pyramid: Start at Level 1 on manual mode for 1-minute and keep the RPMs at 80-100. Each minute, increase the resistance by 1-2 levels. Continue this process until you are having difficulty breathing and/or peddling – should take about 10-minutes. When you get really good at this you can take the bike to level 20. THEN, repeat the cycle in reverse order. Like any pyramid workout, you have a warmup - max out - cool down all rolled into one nice package. This workout will take 39-40 minutes if you are advanced. But, if you can only get up to level 10 and back to level 1, your time investment is only 19-minutes. I do the same on an elliptical machine but find that increasing by 2 or 3 levels each minute makes it more challenging.

Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb is to run, bike, elliptical or row for 10-minutes for every 500m of swimming to be done. So, a swim workout that requires 1500-2000m of swimming would be replaced by 30-40 minutes of other activity.

For sprint days, a 100m sprint in the pool is equal to 400m sprint on land if running or 60-90 seconds on a bike, elliptical, or rower.

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