Many of you know that I am new to the 557 Family and relatively new to CrossFit, but I’ve long been a competitive athlete in a variety of settings.  This past year I gave up triathlons; I traded in my tri-suit, bike, and running shoes, for CrossFit gear and lifters.  Although time is limited, I’ve tried to maintain time in the pool, as swimming continues to be an excellent adjunct to my CrossFit training.  Swimming enhances cardiovascular fitness, strength, mobility, and symmetry / balance.  



Just as CrossFit WOD’s can be short and intense or long “chippers”, swimming workouts can also promote anaerobic and aerobic fitness.  A sprint workout with short intervals and short recovery challenges anaerobic capacity.  Longer intervals at a moderate pace coupled with moderate rest intervals builds aerobic capacity.   Workouts can also be designed to function at lactic acid threshold or VO2 max.  This is again dependent on pace / speed, distance, and amount of recovery.  These workouts are designed from baseline measures, just as we establish baselines in CrossFit to measures a starting point, measure of improvement, and measure personal goals achievement.


Swimming promotes mobility in other positions that may be less common to the CrossFit athlete.   As CrossFit athletes, we push, pull, and press in a forward or overhead motions.  Swimming affords the opportunity to combine head / neck rotation with shoulder rotation forward and backward.  Swimming also promotes shoulder frontal plane movement through breaststroke.  Adequate hip and ankle mobility are important for proper kicking technique when swimming all strokes.  


Swimming promotes extremity and core strength. Swimming engages the trunk flexors / extensors as the arms / legs cycle about a strong and semi-rigid body.  With faster “turn-over” of the arms / legs, the body can move through the water with greater force / power as the trunk remains “tightened”, creating a streamlined effect through the water.  Effective strokes oscillate between a hollow-rock and arch positions; specific strokes can be used to strengthen the anterior (front) or posterior (back) chains.   


Symmetry and balance are required for successful swimming, just as in CrossFit.  Arms and legs may move reciprocally or alternate movement patterns of each other.  Other specific strokes may require the body to move in mass flexion (bending) / extension (straightening) patterns, such as a thruster.  Rotary breathing to both sides of the body, pulling equally with each arm, or kicking equally with each leg, are examples of symmetry in swimming.  This is measured by swimming a straight path, and taking equal strokes with the right / left side of the body for a specified distance.  

Swimming complements CrossFit will for a variety of factors:  cardiovascular fitness, mobility, strength, and symmetry.  Consider adding swimming to your fitness plan as active recovery or accessory work.  I am happy to provide you with any swimming guidance to help meet your personal CrossFit goals.


Jenny Norton

US Masters Swimming Level 1 & 2 Swim Coach