3

votes

Is swimming better (e.g., more paleo) than running?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created December 03, 2011 at 9:40 PM

We dislike chronic cardio, ie long distance running, and it makes sense when we look at a sprinter's body vs. a marathon runner's body. My question is, does this also hold for swimmers? Michael Phelps swims 6 hrs a day 6 days a week and trains for long distance, yet his body is long, lean with super defined abs and arms. Based on a quick Google search, I can't find evidence that Michael Phelps weight trains I can't imagine ever getting that kind of definition in my arms and abs just through swimming alone -- Is there something different about swimming long distance compared to running long distance?? How does he get such a great body from swimming only, and long distance - is it just phenomenal genes or the swimming?

3bad4b0b105bf44d7650e7fdfbe15cbd

(860)

on December 06, 2011
at 05:40 AM

I didn't say it's not ideal, just that it's less ideal. I inferred that the OP valued leanness from the wording of the post, so a higher body fat would be less ideal considering that. I don't know of any studies that have been done to compare the healthfulness of, say, 10% vs 6% body fat. But without research saying there is no difference, 6% certainly looks much more impressive than 10% and yields a greater power-to-weight ratio assuming LBM is held constant.

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 04, 2011
at 10:31 PM

@The Loon---this is true only in cool/cold water. If pools were much warmer you'd have the same problems with dissipating heat that you see in sports such as running and the message sent to the brain would be to reduce bodyfat (eat less)...

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 04, 2011
at 10:20 PM

Which fact did you doubt? Differing bone density among races?

8949bf87b0e0aefcad10f29975e4fa2b

(8989)

on December 04, 2011
at 05:18 PM

true, if you want to gain fat, start swimming. Best way to work up an insatiable appetite.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on December 04, 2011
at 01:39 PM

None of the top level swimmers, Phelps included, have a body fat level which I'd consider high. Is there research supporting your claim that body fats at those levels are "not ideal"?

Dc5144de5078c44a2b106ff25778fd3d

(308)

on December 04, 2011
at 12:10 PM

I dislike all this cardio disliking. I do paleo, swimming AND running.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on December 04, 2011
at 06:08 AM

This made me imagine the "human centipede" trying to swim. ((shudders))

Medium avatar

on December 04, 2011
at 06:01 AM

Here's a study showing a higher incidence of hip fractures among whites of both sexes due to lower average bone density. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1863580/

Medium avatar

on December 04, 2011
at 06:00 AM

I think another factor is that black men tend to have a larger muscle mass than white men, particular with a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle, and muscle is less buoyant than fat, making it harder to swim. This is a pretty good article summing up the debate http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/07/black-men-can-swim/. It points out that on average studies show blacks have denser bones than whites, but there can be at least as much difference in bone density within races as there is between them for certain subsets of the population.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on December 04, 2011
at 04:41 AM

Even with the density and added weight I think that with proper training and gear that this superior athlete could truly overcome their competitors. I mean, just think of the sponsorships and all the logo space that would available! That in itself is a valuable commodity and businesses would be scrambling to create the lightest most perfect gear. Oh, and there would never really be a bad time for snacking and napping.

91fe5b7e10068df9f147ee84320e38f7

(614)

on December 04, 2011
at 04:40 AM

@ Eric, very interesting, but I'm sure you, as I, find that study super-problematic? Method, age range, etc. Are we really going to conclude the results are ubiquitous? Sorry, still smacks of psuedo-science to me. But I'm an historian, so if you've got cites to back this info up, I'm all ears.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on December 04, 2011
at 04:25 AM

Yes please, Daniel, would you mind elaborating with sources? I'm referring to both of your comments. @blueballoon I also raced for years, was a sprinter, and my training regimen was damn near close to yours but with a weekly run. All were in agreement with with the higher level of body fat hypothesis. Always was a bit baffling..

3bad4b0b105bf44d7650e7fdfbe15cbd

(860)

on December 04, 2011
at 04:23 AM

I just googled "blacks bone density whites" and found this: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/82/2/429

9759643ce5d97ab8fa649ae954656c4c

(3325)

on December 04, 2011
at 04:00 AM

That could be a straight up advantage, depending on the bone density and added weight in question.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on December 04, 2011
at 03:56 AM

But if you were a conjoined triplet then you're solid for triathlons.

9759643ce5d97ab8fa649ae954656c4c

(3325)

on December 04, 2011
at 03:48 AM

If that's the case, it's wise to consider the location of your twin when choosing between running or swimming.

91fe5b7e10068df9f147ee84320e38f7

(614)

on December 04, 2011
at 03:43 AM

Daniel, do you have citations for that assertion? Having studied anthropology and the history of eugenics for many years, I have never come upon this information. Curious. And it's not credible without sources, quite frankly.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on December 04, 2011
at 03:36 AM

Umm.. who is "we?" Are you a conjoined twin?!?! ::crosses fingers::

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 03, 2011
at 11:50 PM

Blacks have denser bones than whites, btw--a distinct advantage for whites in this sport.

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 03, 2011
at 11:49 PM

In running events, excess fat = excess weight, reduced ability to radiate heat and is a distinct disadvantage. In swimming, excess weight, while a disadvantage, is less so, AND bodyfat increases bouyancy and provides insulation, so it's a mixed bag which apparently favors slightly higher bf%s. If you want to see swimmers with lower bf%s, require all pools to be heated to 95.00° Fahrenheit/35.00° Celsius and VOILA, in a few years you'll see leaner swimmers on the world stage.

Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on December 03, 2011
at 11:04 PM

he may be training in the pool for 6 hours, but he's not doing 6 hours steady-state 'chronic' cardio. And I think you'll find land sprinters spend quite a lot of time training, but they doesn't make them marathoners. Aside from trying to apply generalise from one elite athlete to an entire species, I'd've said if anything he's an argument for speed over distance.

8cbb06eb84dad8d2db56fcc4d8bdc0ba

on December 03, 2011
at 09:52 PM

his regular training routine is 6hrs swim/day for 6 days a week

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6 Answers

7
Medium avatar

on December 03, 2011
at 10:20 PM

Michael Phelps is an outlier. He is beyond the norm in a whole lot of key respects. Strong natural aptitude, strong motivation, fierce competitive spirit, willingness to work hard and capable of being coached.

Starting with outliers (Phelps, Tiger Woods, and so many more) and then comparing to some human norm, is how non sequiturs get started. Not to mention junk science.

I presume our ancestors would look at a river as something to cross at the most shallow section, rather than an opportunity to get their heart rate up.

1
E36cb992cf0a5eba8b97a359c15f38b3

on December 03, 2011
at 11:35 PM

I swam competitively for 15 years, including part of college. I was [clearly] nowhere near Phelps' level of competitiveness, but I was at a high enough level to know what general training is for elite swimmers. It definitely comes under the "chronic cardio" umbrella if you are concerned about that. For example, for the last seven years I swam I had two workouts a day, six days a week. All in all I spent about 30 hours at the pool each week. Most of that was in the pool, but we also did quite a bit of resistance and cross-training on deck, with medicine balls, running, and plyometrics. I did bodyweight exercises through high school and didn't get into actual lifting until college, but I assure you we did plenty of strength training along with training in the pool. I can't imagine Phelps only swims.

Also, for training purposes: Even our sprinters were at the pool about between 3 and 4 hours a day. Those of us who swam distance (especially me, as an open water swimmer), were at the pool at least five, sometimes in three sessions during school breaks.

One hypothesis as to why swimmers have a generally higher level of body fat than other elite athletes is that they're in a lower temperature of water and need the fat for insulation. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea. I hovered around 140 lbs and 14-15% BF the entire time I swam at my highest level. Note: I was a distance swimmer, not a sprinter. Most of the sprinters I knew had slightly lower BF% than the distance swimmers. I would guess that the distance swimmers tended higher because of possible higher cortisol levels, and would be similar to distance runners that way--but with significantly higher lean mass.

91fe5b7e10068df9f147ee84320e38f7

(614)

on December 04, 2011
at 04:40 AM

@ Eric, very interesting, but I'm sure you, as I, find that study super-problematic? Method, age range, etc. Are we really going to conclude the results are ubiquitous? Sorry, still smacks of psuedo-science to me. But I'm an historian, so if you've got cites to back this info up, I'm all ears.

91fe5b7e10068df9f147ee84320e38f7

(614)

on December 04, 2011
at 03:43 AM

Daniel, do you have citations for that assertion? Having studied anthropology and the history of eugenics for many years, I have never come upon this information. Curious. And it's not credible without sources, quite frankly.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on December 04, 2011
at 04:25 AM

Yes please, Daniel, would you mind elaborating with sources? I'm referring to both of your comments. @blueballoon I also raced for years, was a sprinter, and my training regimen was damn near close to yours but with a weekly run. All were in agreement with with the higher level of body fat hypothesis. Always was a bit baffling..

Medium avatar

on December 04, 2011
at 06:01 AM

Here's a study showing a higher incidence of hip fractures among whites of both sexes due to lower average bone density. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1863580/

8949bf87b0e0aefcad10f29975e4fa2b

(8989)

on December 04, 2011
at 05:18 PM

true, if you want to gain fat, start swimming. Best way to work up an insatiable appetite.

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 03, 2011
at 11:50 PM

Blacks have denser bones than whites, btw--a distinct advantage for whites in this sport.

3bad4b0b105bf44d7650e7fdfbe15cbd

(860)

on December 04, 2011
at 04:23 AM

I just googled "blacks bone density whites" and found this: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/82/2/429

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 04, 2011
at 10:31 PM

@The Loon---this is true only in cool/cold water. If pools were much warmer you'd have the same problems with dissipating heat that you see in sports such as running and the message sent to the brain would be to reduce bodyfat (eat less)...

Medium avatar

on December 04, 2011
at 06:00 AM

I think another factor is that black men tend to have a larger muscle mass than white men, particular with a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle, and muscle is less buoyant than fat, making it harder to swim. This is a pretty good article summing up the debate http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/07/black-men-can-swim/. It points out that on average studies show blacks have denser bones than whites, but there can be at least as much difference in bone density within races as there is between them for certain subsets of the population.

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 04, 2011
at 10:20 PM

Which fact did you doubt? Differing bone density among races?

25b139cc1954456d9ea469e40f984cd3

on December 03, 2011
at 11:49 PM

In running events, excess fat = excess weight, reduced ability to radiate heat and is a distinct disadvantage. In swimming, excess weight, while a disadvantage, is less so, AND bodyfat increases bouyancy and provides insulation, so it's a mixed bag which apparently favors slightly higher bf%s. If you want to see swimmers with lower bf%s, require all pools to be heated to 95.00° Fahrenheit/35.00° Celsius and VOILA, in a few years you'll see leaner swimmers on the world stage.

1
8949bf87b0e0aefcad10f29975e4fa2b

(8989)

on December 03, 2011
at 10:33 PM

I would find it hard to believe that he doesn't do at least some weight training. I do not know of a swimming program that does not have it as a part. As a minimum, he would be using hand or feet flippers or a paddle machine.

1
3bad4b0b105bf44d7650e7fdfbe15cbd

on December 03, 2011
at 10:29 PM

Swimmers generally have higher body fat than their runner counterparts, so from that perspective, it's less ideal. See http://www.sportsci.org/news/compeat/fat.html. There's no scientific consensus on why that is generally the case.

Swimming also isn't weight bearing and won't do much for increasing bone density - swimmers have actually been found to have poor bone density compared to other athletes. See http://www.swimmingscience.net/2010/07/bone-mineral-density-in-swimmers.html

Michael Phelps is only one person. You can't draw any conclusions from that (just like you also shouldn't draw any definitive conclusions from looking only at Art De Vany, Mark Sisson, etc.).

Intuitively, our ancestors likely spent very little time in the water.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on December 04, 2011
at 01:39 PM

None of the top level swimmers, Phelps included, have a body fat level which I'd consider high. Is there research supporting your claim that body fats at those levels are "not ideal"?

3bad4b0b105bf44d7650e7fdfbe15cbd

(860)

on December 06, 2011
at 05:40 AM

I didn't say it's not ideal, just that it's less ideal. I inferred that the OP valued leanness from the wording of the post, so a higher body fat would be less ideal considering that. I don't know of any studies that have been done to compare the healthfulness of, say, 10% vs 6% body fat. But without research saying there is no difference, 6% certainly looks much more impressive than 10% and yields a greater power-to-weight ratio assuming LBM is held constant.

1
Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on December 03, 2011
at 09:48 PM

Phelps is a sprinter. And logically, just how far would our ancestors have ever swum on anything approaching a regular basis? I'd say running is more natural to us. Of course if you're after fat loss then with the full body action, low injury risk and high thermal loads of being in water then being a swimmer can be effective. But Phelps doesn't represent chronic cardio to me - even the 400m medley is barely over 4 minutes.

8cbb06eb84dad8d2db56fcc4d8bdc0ba

on December 03, 2011
at 09:52 PM

his regular training routine is 6hrs swim/day for 6 days a week

Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on December 03, 2011
at 11:04 PM

he may be training in the pool for 6 hours, but he's not doing 6 hours steady-state 'chronic' cardio. And I think you'll find land sprinters spend quite a lot of time training, but they doesn't make them marathoners. Aside from trying to apply generalise from one elite athlete to an entire species, I'd've said if anything he's an argument for speed over distance.

0
3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52

(18635)

on December 04, 2011
at 12:36 AM

Why could you not imagine getting definition like that through swimming? Guess I dont understand the question. He does not swim a continuous 6hrs. I cant say that I know for sure his training schedule, but I would guess he does a variety of intervals type work...a little 100% sprint type effort...and a lot of low and slow while he perfects his technique. All in all his regimen may not be sustainable (i.e. not many old swimmers in those events), but for a young guy in his prime he is pushing his body beyond what is likely healthy to specialize and be elite in one area.

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