Swimming is so much more than just an essential life skill. It’s an exceptional cardiorespiratory workout that comes without excessive stress on your joints.
But if your pool is closed for an indefinite amount of time, you need a way to try to stay in swim shape, so that it’ll be easier to resume your workout regimen when you can get back in the water.
Being in swim shape means to have developed valuable physiological adaptations from swimming. In plain English, that means that you’ve got a level of aerobic fitness and feel for the water that comes from repeated bouts of technique training (muscle memory). Below the surface, it also means that you’ve developed the core stability and breath control necessary to be able to move easily in the water.
So during your time away from the water, you’ve got a few objectives: Maintain aerobic fitness, continue to tone swimming muscles such as your rotator cuff muscles, and not to un-learn breath control. You’ll also need a way to quantify your workouts to compare with what you would otherwise be doing in the pool.
Maintaining Aerobic Fitness on Land
If running is already part of your workout regimen, you may not want to add additional running sets to compensate for the loss of swim workouts because of the increased risk of injury, especially knee and ankle joint injuries. There is an effective alternative, and it comes with the added benefit of being ideal for social distancing. (During this time, you shouldn’t gather in groups of more than 10 and should maintain at least 6 feet of separation between yourself and others, whether you’re walking, running, or cycling.)
Also known as speed walking, racewalking is an under-recognized sport that comes with gains in cardiovascular fitness similar to those of swimming and running. Don’t laugh—racewalking is an Olympic sport for a reason! Try it and you’ll find that your heart rate stays elevated in response. Its unique biomechanics could make racewalking an easier workout than running for people with certain injuries or other limitations.
To differentiate racewalking from running, proper technique requires ground contact with at least one foot at all times and keeping your legs mostly straight. Try to maintain good posture and minimize extraneous movements.
If racewalking isn't for you, try jogging at a consistent pace. Try to hit a threshold at which you’re challenged by your pace and maintain the pace. What you’re trying to do is reach your steady state of aerobic fitness. Racewalking and jogging will be adequate exercises for mimicking the cardiorespiratory demands of swimming.
If you prefer to get off your feet and onto a bike, there are several other differences to account for in assessing the relative value of the workout. You’ll need to apply the same basic principles of exercising at a consistently elevated heart rate, but because there are differences in typical heart rates at maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) between swimming and cycling, you may need to exert more energy on the bike to stay equal with a swim workout in that regard.
It might be easier to count calories for the purpose of quantifying the value of your workout. If going by the general rule that a 130-pound person burns an average of 500 calories per hour while swimming, the same person would need to cycle at an average speed of 15 mph with consistent cadence to burn the same number of calories. Remember that every time you coast, your calorie burning will drop.