Cardio • 16.11.2017 • Thomas Doblhammer

Endurance Training in Winter >> Swimming as the Perfect Alternative

Winter offers some new cross-training alternatives like cross-country skiing or ice skating. However, it also makes it more difficult to run outdoors. The temperatures outside are colder, and it gets dark earlier.
This is why many runners look for other conditioning possibilities in winter. Swimming is one excellent option: the movements involved in swimming require a lot of coordination and technique and thus provide benefits beyond just strengthening. Swimming engages many different muscle groups, and the water supports a good deal of your body weight making it a low-impact form of exercise.

EIn Mann schwimmt Längen im Schwimmbecken

Why water sports are a good alternative

Swimming burns an average of 500-800 calories per hour. The number depends on the correct execution and speed of your movements (muscle activity). You need good technique to swim efficiently, so you should work on it. If you want, you can hire a swimming coach or join a training group.

What a basic endurance routine might look like

  • 10-minute warm-up in a stroke of your choice.
  • 5 minutes of accelerations over a defined distance (25, 50 or 100 m). Start off slow and steadily increase the pace until you reach your maximum speed.
  • 10 minutes of drills to improve the efficiency of your technique. These include exercises designed to improve your body position in the water (gliding exercises), exercises to improve your propulsion in water (sculling exercises) and exercises to improve your technique in a specific stroke (e.g. freestyle). You can choose from general technique drills (like closed-fist freestyle, kicking from the hips and keeping a high elbow catch) or specific exercises recommended by a swimming coach.
  • Now choose a distance between 25 and 200 m, depending on your individual fitness level. Swim this distance as many times as possible within the time you have available. After each interval, rest for 20-30 seconds. You should choose a pace per interval that challenges you but does not exhaust you immediately. If you can, you should time your first interval using a stopwatch and then try to maintain this pace during the following intervals. This not only boosts your cardiovascular system, but it pushes your muscles to their limits and thus helps you to burn serious calories.  
  • 5-minute cool-down to round off the workout.

Jemand krault im Schwimmbecken

Tips for your swimming training

Intense endurance training causes your body to burn many calories and – as often desired – a lot of fat calories. But be careful: it also burns a large number of carbohydrate calories.

This is significant because our body only has a limited number of carbohydrates available to burn (in contrast to fat). They are stored in the form of glycogen. When your stores are empty, your body sends out a signal immediately. How do you know? You get hungry. So, make sure that you eat a balanced mix of foods before and after your swimming training. If you want to burn more fat than carbs, you should train longer and at a lower intensity. This is known as extensive endurance.

  • Benefits of extensive endurance: You won’t feel hungry right after your workout. Plus, it burns off more fat proportionately.
  • Drawbacks of extensive endurance: The calorie burn per hour is somewhat lower than for intense endurance training.

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Thomas Doblhammer

Thomas is a Sports Scientist and Certified Personal Trainer. His work includes offering swimming, running and strength & conditioning courses, supporting teams and coaching professional athletes. His current favorite way to train (personally) is through calisthenics.


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