Should You Add Swimming to Your Training as an Everyday CrossFit Athlete? Chase Ingraham Weighs In

January 18, 2024 by
Credit: Elizabeth Cox Photo,
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A plunge into a cold, chlorinated pool or open body of water isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. CrossFit athletes at the competitive level have seen swim events come up (outside of the Games) more and more, and its prevalence has begged the question of whether or not an everyday CrossFitter should be adding swimming to their training regime. 

The everyday athlete is exposed to a multitude of movements and equipment daily within the confines of a CrossFit gym. But athletes are often told to run outside or get on a non-stationary bike once in a while, so why not jump into a pool and do some laps?

Remind me: Elite athletes, along with hundreds of others, recently competed at the 2024 TYR Wodapalooza. The fitness festival is known to have a swim event every year at the Bayside Stage and this year was no different. The Legends Championship introduced a swim event for the masters-only competition for the first time this year. 

Chase Ingraham, podcast host and one of the lead voices of the CrossFit Games for many years,  was a collegiate swimmer at Southern Methodist University. He shares his insights on the intersection of CrossFit and swimming and how it can be beneficial, even if you’re not actively training for a competition. 

“It takes a long time to be a good swimmer off the bat and I look at swimming as a very highly skilled sport,” Ingraham said in an interview with the Morning Chalk Up. 

  • “Swimming is not something people normally do on an everyday basis. All we do is walk and run. Now whether we do that at the level of which you would see an Olympic athlete, there’s a huge gap there, but everybody can do it. Not everybody can hop into a pool and be comfortable, let alone tread water. And the unique part about swimming is that you have to learn how to do it,” he continued. 
  • Ingraham stressed the difference between being able to “survive” in the water and getting through an event, versus being a trained swimmer (comparing it to being able to do Olympic lifts, versus being trained and proficient at them): “From a fitness standpoint. You can do your best to go down and back multiple times for whatever distance, but unless you learn the technique, I think it’s akin to learning the Olympic lifts specifically.” 

Aside from TYR Wodapalooza, most other competitions that non-elite athletes are more likely to compete at haven’t added swimming to the workout list, likely due to logistical challenges and climate. But that’s not a reason to ignore it in your training regime. 

A place to start is on an active recovery day, said Ingraham. 

A swim workout doesn’t need to be as high intensity as a CrossFit workout to show results and is low impact enough to do if you’re feeling sore but still want to get some movement in. 

  • “I think people look at swimming as a competition event. If they don’t compete, well then why do we need to swim, and you couldn’t be more off base on the power and benefit that somebody can have,” Ingraham stressed. 
  • “The bang for your buck that you can get from a recovery perspective is one. But as far as the training benefits, it’s unmatched as far as cardiovascular endurance and stamina,” he continued.
  • “When you think about what most people’s limitations are in a CrossFit workout a lot of it centers around local muscle failure or local muscle fatigue. And I can’t think of another movement in just a casual setting that elicits that same type of local muscle failure.” 

Ingraham argues that the everyday CrossFitter should prioritize getting a swim workout in on a recovery day or as a workout from time to time. A 30-minute swim workout is sufficient and doesn’t need to be much longer. For those athletes looking to compete on the elite level swimming is a “must.” 

  • “I would argue the time needed to spend in the pool to get anything out of it would actually be less than going to the gym for the day,” said Ingraham. 
  • “On the more competitive side, athletes need to stop looking at swimming as a competitive movement and something that should absolutely be indoctrinated into your training program.” 

Below is a sample active recovery swim workout suggested by Ingraham. 

Not for Time:

  • 400m Swim
    200m Kick
    400m Swim
    200m Kick
    400m Swim

This is meant to be long, slow, steady technique work. If your technique starts to break down then slow your pace until you can keep quality movement.

For the swim laps, athletes should focus on the length and technique of their stroke by reaching out, pulling under the body, and pressing back mid-thigh along with breathing position.

For the kick laps, you want to use a kickboard to keep your arms extended with your head just above the surface of the water. Point your toes and think about driving the kicks from the hamstrings and hip flexors versus from the knees and ankles. Think about kicking with “long legs, soft knees and pointed toes,” Ingraham advised.

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